UPDATE: Judge declares mistrial in Jones murder case

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

1:35 P.M.
BOONEVILLE – Rebecca “Becky” Jones’ murder trial stopped midday Wednesday when Judge Seth Pounds declared mistrial because of her sudden absence.
Jones did not appear in court when her trial resumed this morning. Her attorneys said she was taken by ambulance overnight to a Florence, Ala., hospital, where they visited her later today with the judge’s approval.
(FYI READERS: Case laws shows that the defendant’s intentional act which prevented his presence at trial can constitute a waiver of [defendant to] his right to be present. In other words, the constitutional right to be present and confront witnesses can be waived by voluntary and willful acts of an accused.)
Pounds told the jury too many problems existed to re-set trial for next week.
He ordered a warrant be issued for Jones’ arrest as soon as she is released from the hospital. He also ordered her to pay all court costs for this trial, as wellas a future trial.
(Below is a running account of courtroom action. Please excuse the typos and glitches likely as I type as fast as I can.)
1:30 P.M.
Pounds enters courtroom. (No defense lawyers here.)
JUDGE – No defense attorneys. Court and DA’s office and others by telephone in chambers talked to Rob Laher, at hospital in Alabama. Made a motion by phone for mistrial due to his client. I will explain to jury.
(Jurors arrive) Explanation is needed. Explain what’s happened. During night, defendant taken to hospital in Alabama from her home. Laher told about 7 a.m. and he told the friend who called to tell defendant to be here. At some point after, he informed court she was in ICU and that is when court asked you to come back at 1:30. Under MS law, we can continue to try case if defendant voluntarily chooses to come back. Question becomes: Did she do this or a heart attack she could not help.
I had Laher et al go to hospital, now on way back. Update from him: She is still unresponsive at hospital. He hasn’t been able to talk to her. Trying to get medical information, releases … to find out if it’s voluntary or something she couldn’t help. Laher asked for a mistrial. I’m not going to keep you sitting around here … and bring you back Monday. But there’s another capital murder trial set for Monday with sev witnesses and large jury pool here. Not an option. Looked at taking you to drug court and concluding there. No jury room there. You may have conflicts next week. Other problems.
Nevertheless, court has granted mistrial. Defendant will be ordered to reimburse county all costs of this trial.
Issue warrant to hold her without bond, when she is released from hospital. Until further order of this court. Also asks for order … as to a release of medical records to DA’s office so you can ascertain why she’s in that hospital. Court can take up sanctions once I get that information.
KITCHENS – Mistrial declared over our objection. Like record to so state.
JUDGE – Fact that defendant can’t be here or testify in her own behalf … don’t know reasons … in light, I have adequately remedied situation. Ordered her held without bond, to reimburse Prentiss County. I will reset her for trial and order her to pay all costs of a future trial.
WISE – Nothing else from state.
KITCHENS – We will either plead her or try her. We will not let this go. We are not going to let murderers go free in Prentiss County.
• • •
9:40 A.M.
BOONEVILLE – Prosecutors were ready to continue their case this morning against Rebecca “Becky” Jones, accused in the shooting death of her mother in May 2010.
The state’s case began Tuesday before Circuit Judge Seth Pounds and a jury of five men and nine women, two as alternates who will go home before deliberations begin.
Jane Jones, 56, died hours after she was shot twice at her Prentiss County home May 11, 2010, during a visit from her daughter, Becky. Testimony thus far indicates the women had a long-running, troubled relationship.
Josh Wise and Kimi Kitchens are assistant district attorney prosecutors. Defense attorneys are Rob Laher of Tupelo and Jay Perry of Starkville.
However, Laher told Pounds that his client did not appear because she was in the hospital.
That news set off a series of exchanges between prosecutors, defense attorneys and Pounds over what information was valid about why Becky Jones was hospitalized and whether it was “willful and voluntary.”
Pounds authorized Laher and Perry to go to the Florence, Ala., hospital, determine the condition of their client and report to him by 1:30 p.m.
He also recess the 15-member jury, telling them “unforeseen circumstances” forced him to delay the morning start of the trial.
Jones faces life in prison if convicted in her mother’s death.
• • •
(Below is part of the morning conversation in court:)
LAHER – It is critical… she has to be here. It’s essential that she testify. She’s known that.
Judge – can you verify why she’s in the hospital?
Laher – this is a circumstances no one anticipated. Perhaps to travel to Alabama until about 1 p.m. to determine what’s happened, then get information to the court about why she’s not here. Case law … if this is voluntary or involuntary … we need some kind of medical proof. If court will allow us that period of time … if we proceed without knowledge of voluntary or involuntary, we could potentially be destroying this whole work.
Judge – (cites case law ….) all seem to state that in order to continue, once started, absence must be willful or voluntary to avoid mistrial. We need to know… did she have a heart attack or is it something that is self-induced. I don’t know at this time.
Josh Wise – MS Code says court has discretion to continue this trial. In criminal case, presence may be waived if defendant is in custody or waives or has escaped. Or is in any way in default for not appearing. Court may … in this situation, is she willful or voluntarily avoiding trial. Burden is on the defense counsel. Under MS case law … in case of attempted suicide, it is willful and an attempt to avoid trial
Judge – Our issue is why she’s in the hospital.
Wise – She was obviously here yesterday, we don’t know why she’s not today. Burden is on defendants.
Kitchens – (Name man) who was with her at dinner last night. Court could ask him under oath what he knows about a potential overdose. It’s sounding like that. Could have ingested something … says stomach problems.
Perry – We’re talking about a murder trial. Punishment is in life in prison. All we’re asking is to be allowed to attempt to find out.
Judge – I’m going to … have conferred with a higher source… I’m going to heed that advice and other courts … to determine if her absence is willful, voluntary and deliberate. Recess until 1 p.m. to find out what’s going on. Let’s talk about jury. Any problems with letting them go until then, 1:20?
Wise- No objection. Laher – none.
Judge – I have tried one case where skipped out after trial started. Never had one end up in the hospital. Want to be fair to both sides. Want to investigate more. If you need help from the court… know under HIPPA we’re running into problems. They won’t take my word over the telephone or take faxes. I will be glad to issue an order, to be hand delivered to that hospital to find out what is happening. Not far to go.
Perry – What we intend to do.
Judge – Need to set up conference call with court reporter after you get there.
Perry – That’s what we intend to do. We’d rather do that in person than on phone.
Judge – I’ll get you my phone number. Rather do it over speaker phone. I’m going to tell the jury about unforeseen circumstances and we’ll continue until 1:30. Will tell them we hope that we can continue then.
TO JURY – Didn’t want you to be sitting back there all this time. At 1:15, hope we can resume the trial. Don’t want you speculating why we couldn’t continue. (Defendant obviously isn’t in the courtroom.) Want you to get your information from this courtroom, not from any other source. Don’t talk to anybody …. hope we can resume at that time. I apologize.
9:56.
• • •
• Read more in Thursday’s Daily Journal

UPDATE 9:41 A.M.: BOONEVILLE – Defendant Becky Jones is in a Florence, Ala., hospital, her attorney Rob Laher told the court this morning.
He said she was taken to the hospital over night and is in the ICU being treated.
Judge Pounds asked both sides their opinion of court options.
Laher said that in this case, it’s essential that Miss Jones be here to testify and to help team consider any other evidence.
Pounds gave the defense permission to travel to Alabama to speak with their client and determine what her medical problem is.
Jones has a history of prescription drug abuse but reportedly has been “clean” a number of years through participation in AA.
She reportedly went to dinner with a cousin Tuesday night, then complained of stomach pain and later was found unresponsive in her bathroom in her Alabama home.

More information as it is available

***

Daughter goes on trial in mother’s fatal shooting

BOONEVILLE – Rebecca “Becky” Jones’ attorneys insist she accidentally shot her mother, Jane, in a living room argument in May 2010.
This week, state prosecutors began a parade of witnesses to indicate that years of bitter relations between the two boiled over and the daughter killed the mother over the loss of her child, her land and her life.
A jury of five men and nine women will decide Becky Jones’ fate in the Prentiss County Courthouse. They must be unanimous in their verdict, for guilt or acquittal.
After a series of legal body blows from forensic testimony, late Tuesday defense counsel cast doubts on the credibility of photographs allegedly taken at Jane Jones’ home after she was shot twice – in the arm and in the abdomen.
Under questioning from attorney Jay Perry of Starkville, Sheriff Randy Tolar admitted one of four photos was different and showed items missing from others taken by investigator Roy Reagan soon after Jane Jones called in her own 911 emergency on May 11, 2010.
“Ms. Jones has said there was a struggle. Her mother charged her, the gun went off. You understand … you said nothing appeared out of ordinary,” asked Perry about the photos.
Tolar admitted that the different photo might have been taken by a hired photographer a few days later, although prosecutors represented that it was one taken shortly after Jones’ death.
Medical witnesses said Jane Jones died of a gunshot wound. A firearms expert said gunshot residue on Jane Jones’ clothing likely was from a gun fired farther than contact but within nine inches.
Tuesday was the first day for testimony presided over by Circuit Judge Seth Pounds. Prosecutors are Josh Wise and Kimi Kitchens.
Becky Jones, who appears to be in her late 30s, is accused of shooting her mother after years of squabbles over family issues. In opening statements, defense attorney Rob Laher told the jury Becky Jones’ mother never got over the death of another daughter, who was 6 when she was run over by a school bus near their home.
Kitchens told the jury it was a plain and simple crime, that Becky Jones took her revenge of her mother for taking custody of Becky’s minor child and for taking over control of land belonging to Becky. Witnesses said Becky Jones, who had problems with prescription drugs in the 1980s, seemed to get her life together after moving to Alabama.
“She never helped her mother. She did nothing. Nothing to help her mother,” Kitchens said. “These are not acts of a daughter. These are acts of a murderer.”
Trial resumes at 9 a.m. today.
patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com