COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) — As a jury was deliberating over his fate, a Georgia district attorney on Monday pleaded guilty to several charges stemming from improper acts while in office and agreed to resign.
Mark Jones had already been suspended as Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit district attorney after the state attorney general’s office obtained the indictment on Sept. 7. It accused him of trying to influence a police officer’s testimony, offering bribes to prosecutors in his office and trying to influence and prevent the testimony of a crime victim.
Jones took office in January, overseeing the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit, which serves Muscogee, Harris, Chattahoochee, Marion, Talbot and Taylor counties in west Georgia.
After deliberating briefly Thursday and then all day Friday, jurors had indicated Friday afternoon that they were unanimous on three of the nine charges, and the judge instructed them to keep working on the others, according to local news outlets. After about an hour of deliberations Monday, jurors said they had reached a consensus of guilty on five charges, but Jones had decided to agree to a plea deal, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reported.
He pleaded guilty to four counts in the indictment in exchange for a sentence of five years — one year to be served in prison and the remainder on probation — and a $1,000 fine, Attorney General Chris Carr said in a news release. Jones also agreed to resign, submitting a resignation letter to Gov. Brian Kemp.
“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," Carr said in the release. "This outcome is a victory for integrity in prosecutions and the rule of law.”
Superior Court Judge Katherine Lumsden had Jones taken into custody immediately, denying his request to turn himself in on Friday.
The governor can now appoint a district attorney to serve until one can be elected. Until he does, Acting District Attorney Sheneka Terry, who took over when Jones was suspended, will continue to hold the role.
The judge noted that the corruption case against Jones was different from some others.
“You didn’t line your own pockets. You didn’t do some of the things that normally are involved when we think of public corruption,” she said. “But I think you got so caught up in being the DA that you forgot about the people you ran to represent.”
Jones pleaded guilty to one count of influencing witnesses for telling a police officer to testify a certain way. He also pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted violation of oath by a public officer for offering two prosecutors in his office $1,000 each in exchange for following instructions he gave them. And he pleaded guilty to one count of violation of oath by a public officer for not helping a crime victim's nephew understand the court system and his rights.
Juror Iesha James told reporters after the plea that jurors had reached guilty verdicts on five counts, the Ledger-Enquirer reported. That included two of the ones involved in the plea agreement.
Jurors heard three days of testimony from prosecution witnesses last week. Jones’ defense attorney, Katonga Wright, didn’t call any witnesses. Jones didn’t testify.
Before sentencing Jones, the judge mentioned an encounter Jones had with a homicide detective outside a downtown Columbus bar late at night. Jones was captured on body camera video saying the officer should have charged a shooting suspect with murder instead of involuntary manslaughter.
“When I watched that body cam video, all I could think was, ‘This does not make people trust the system,’” Lumsden told Jones. Justice, she said, does not mean winning at any cost: “If it becomes that, then we have much bigger problems than the criminal justice system has already, and we can’t afford to let that happen.”
Two prosecutors in the district attorney's office also testified that Jones had offered them $1,000 even thought they'd taken an oath only to accept the compensation they were due. He offered to pay one to secure a murder conviction and to pay the other to say a case was ready for trial when it wasn’t. In addition to the two counts of attempting to get them to violate their oaths of office that Jones pleaded guilty to, he had also faced bribery charges for those allegations.
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