RECAP: About two months after he was indicted on public corruption charges, Muscogee County DA Mark Jones entered an 11th hour guilty plea this morning.
Before he left the courtroom, Jones wrote a one-sentence letter to Gov. Brian Kemp resigning.
The guilty pleas on four of the nine charges remove Jones from office.
He was sentenced to five years in prison – one to serve – by Superior Court Judge Katherine Lumsden.
Jones’ attorney says it was the best deal her client could get.
“I think it was the right thing for him to step up and accept responsibility for things that may not have been looked upon in a better favorable light,” said Jones’ attorney, Katonga Wright. “He at least has a predictable result.”
The jury was still deliberating as Jones and the state were hammering out the plea deal.
Here’s what Jones said to News 3 in that moment.
“I fought really hard for the city – and that’s about it,” former DA Mark Jones.
There was more to it than that.
Jones was elected DA last November, took office in January, and was under a nine-count felony indictment by September. All the allegations involved corruption while in office.
“You a got so caught up in being the DA that you forgot about the people you ran to represent,” Lumsden said.
Jones entered guilty pleas on four felony counts.
Count 1 – Influencing witnesses involving a taped conversation with Columbus Police Cpl. Sherman Hayes.
Count 6 – Attempted violation of oath of office by offering Chief Assistant DA Sheneka Terry $1,000 for a murder conviction.
Count 7 – Attempted violation of oath of office by offering Assistant DA Kimberly Schwartz $1,000 to tell a judge she was ready for trial when she wasn’t.
Count 9 – Violation of oath by pressuring Chris Bailey to drop a complaint against the DA involving his uncle’s homicide case.
He was facing a 20-year sentence. Judge Lumsden sentenced him to 5 years in prison – one to serve. And she also, against the state’s objection, said she was sentencing Jones on first-offender status.
This leaves Jones the possibility to have the conviction removed from his record.
Ironically, one juror told News 3 that they had not yet reached verdicts on three counts involving Hayes and the bodycam video outside a Columbus nightclub.
“Initially, I thought looking at the fact that he was intoxicated, would in your mind automatically give him some leeway,” said juror Iesha James. “But he was apparently coherent and you have to take what was being said as the facts.”
The jury had reached verdicts on five charges before the guilty plea halted the deliberations.
Another juror told News 3 there is no doubt Jones was guilty of crimes.
“Because of what was stated as far as him breaking his oath and influencing the witnesses,” said juror Patricia Dexter.
Wright joined the case on the eve of the trial a week ago. She asked Lumsden for a continuance but it was denied. Jones, acting as his own attorney early on, asked for a speedy trial.
“Whatever happened before I got involved, obviously I can’t comment on,” Wright said. “But I do know any lawyer with more time to formulate facts, especially to develop witnesses, is a big, huge thing. And to be limited on time definitely put you at a disadvantage.”
WRBL reached out to Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr for a statement. Carr’s office brought the case against Jones after a GBI investigation.
Here’s what he said:
“By abusing his power and abdicating his responsibility as district attorney, Mark Jones did a disservice to those he was elected to protect and put our very justice system at risk. Public servants are trusted to discharge their duties ethically and honestly. And when they do not, we will hold them accountable for their actions. This outcome is a victory for integrity in prosecutions and the rule of law.”
Because the office has now been vacated and it serves the six-county Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit, Gov. Kemp will appoint a successor. It is uncertain how long that successor will serve. More than three years remain in the term.
12:51 p.m. – Jones has officially turned in his resignation as Muscogee County District Attorney to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.
11:11 a.m. – News 3 reached out to Acting District Attorney Sheneka Terry and she said she will have no comment today.
Terry will continue to run the office as she has since early October, when Jones was suspended. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp now has the authority to appoint a District Attorney until one can be duly elected.
Deputy Attorney General John Fowler did not comment while leaving the courtroom on Monday.
News 3 will have reaction from Jones’ attorney Katonga Wright coming up on News 3 Midday.
Two jurors told News 3 they had reached guilty verdicts on five the nine counts.
10:25 a.m. – Muscogee County District Attorney Mark Jones pleaded guilty to four of the nine counts of criminal conduct in a plea deal.
As part of the deal, he will be removed from the office immediately, The state has asked for him to be sentenced to five years in prison, to serve one.
Count 1 – Influencing witnesses (Hayes) GUILTY
Count 6 – Attempted violation of oath of office (Terry) GUILTY
Count 7 – Attempted violation of oath of office (Schwartz) GUILTY
Count 9 – Violation of oath of office (Bailey) GUILTY
“You got so caught up in being the DA that you forgot the people you ran to represent,” said Judge Katherine Lumsden. “… These are human beings. This is their fundamental rights. It is not win at any cost.”
10:10 a.m. – With a jury still considering his fate, Muscogee County District Attorney Mark Jones appears to be on the verge of taking a plea offer from the state first thing Monday morning.
Jones and his attorney Katonga Wright were in the courtroom before 9 a.m. when the jury was scheduled to begin deliberations. Wright, Deputy Attorney General John Fowler and Superior Court Judge Katherine Lumsden were huddled at times.
Terms of the potential plea deal are not known and have not been published by the court. If Jones pleads guilty to a felony, he will be immediately removed from office.
Columbus Attorney Bentley Adams III entered the courtroom about 9:45 and informed the judge they he had been hired by Jones. He presented the court with a motion for Lumsden to recuse herself.
Lumsden asked Jones if he was being represented by Adams. He said he was not at this time.
Adams then withdrew the motion. Adams told News 3 that he was told by Jones a deal had been worked out.
Right after Adams left the court, the jury returned a note saying they had reached verdicts on five of the nine counts against Jones. It is not known what those verdicts are. The jury told the judge it had reached verdicts on three counts at the end of Friday.
COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — The jury has reached a verdict on three of the nine counts in the public corruption trial of suspended Muscogee County District Attorney Mark Jones. But those verdicts will not be known until Monday.
The jury was just dismissed and will be back Monday morning to try to reach verdicts on the other six counts.
The three counts the jury has reached verdicts on include two that involve Chief Assistant District Attorney Sheneka Terry.
Jones was accused of offering Terry $1,000 as an incentive for a murder conviction.
The state contended that violated both their public oath and the law.
The other count in which a verdict has been reached involves the family member of a homicide victim.
In a 30-minute taped conversation, Jones told Chris Bailey that, “he was the best friend he had,” and if he did not withdraw an adverse court motion, he would have to consider other options in prosecuting the case.
Judge Lumsden told the court that she was not telegraphing anything and reminded the jury not to read it one way or the other. She says if there are guilty verdicts, she will do the sentencing on Monday.
If convicted on any of the felony charges against him, Jones would be removed from office.
News 3 will continue to provide updates here from inside the courtroom.
In the mean time, readers can catch up on this case by reading below: