Appeals Court upholds Miss. teenager’s murder conviction in Lee County

Published 7:04 pm Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The state Court of Appeals has rejected arguments from Brett Jones that he killed his grandfather in self defense in 2004.

Jones, then 15, was sentenced to life in prison in Lee County in 2005 for the stabbing death of Bertis Jones. Bertis Jones, 68, died at his home in Shannon after being stabbed repeatedly with a steak knife, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said Jones and his grandfather had argued over a telephone bill. Prosecutors said Jones confessed to the crime.

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There was no witness to the killing.

However, Michelle Austin, Jones’ girlfriend, testified Jones had told her he would hurt his grandfather after the argument, according to the court record. Austin pleaded guilty in 2005 to accessory to murder after the fact and was given a suspended sentence.

Defense attorneys had argued the Aug. 9, 2004, slaying was self defense.

Jones testified at trial that his grandfather, who he described as a big man, pushed him and yelled at him. Jones said he had a steak knife because he was making a sandwich. He said he stabbed his grandfather once and then again and again when the man kept coming at him.

Authorities found the body hidden in a utility room.

Other testimony at the trial came from neighbors who saw Jones carrying a knife with blood on his clothes.

Appeals Judge David M. Ishee, writing Tuesday for the court, said the jury’s verdict would stand.

“There was testimony by Austin that Jones intended to hurt his grandfather. Jones admitted killing his grandfather, though he, the only witness to the actual crime, claimed self defense. While there may have been conflicting testimony, we cannot say that the verdict was so contrary to the overwhelming weight of the evidence as to constitute an unconscionable injustice,” Ishee said.

In another case, the Appeals Court upheld the conviction and life sentence given Curtis Bennett in 2004 in Harrison County for the murder of his estranged wife.

Prosecutors said Bennett, 45, shot his wife, Connie, in the back three times Oct. 20, 2003, at the D’Iberville bank where she worked. She died at the scene.

According to the court record, Bennett testified that he didn’t remember killing her, saying his mind went blank after his wife allegedly told him via cell phone that she was interested in someone else.

On appeal, Bennett argued there was no evidence that he had planned to kill his wife and, therefore, he should only have been convicted of manslaughter.

“There was substantial evidence of premeditation in the record,” Appeals Judge David Anthony Chandler wrote for the court.

Chandler said testimony showed Bennett obtained a check for more than $100,000 from the couple’s home equity credit line four days before the killing. Chandler said Bennett drove to the bank with a shotgun, calmly walked through the bank looking for his wife while threatening other employees, found his wife and shot her three times, and then fled.

“The evidence was sufficient to enable the trial judge to find that Bennett had formed a deliberate design to kill Connie,” Chandler said.

In a third murder case, the Appeals Court upheld the life sentence given Gregory Moffett in 2004 in Adams County for the killing of his girlfriend, Tatanisha LeKeytha Thomas, on Dec. 3, 2003.

Prosecutors said Thomas died of blunt-force trauma. The couple had lived together for about a year, and there has been a history of domestic abuse in the relationship, prosecutors said.

Testimony at the trial was that Moffett had threatened to kill Thomas during instances of domestic discord.

Chandler, again writing for the Appeals Court, said Moffett threatened to kill Thomas several days before her death and on the night of her death.

“Further, Moffett had committed three acts of domestic violence against Thomas in the three months before her death. According to the testimony of every pertinent witness on the issue other than himself, Moffett had the opportunity to kill Thomas,” Chandler said.