MOBILE, Ala. (AP) _ Serial killing suspect Jeremy Jones
was convicted Wednesday of capital murder in the 2004 rape and shooting death of a Mobile County woman attacked in her home during a hurricane blackout.
A jury convicted the Oklahoma man of rape, burglary, sexual abuse and kidnapping during capital murder. The verdict opens the door for Jones to be prosecuted in separate slayings in Georgia and New Orleans, and possibly 10 other killings, according to investigators.
Jurors deliberated about two hours in reaching the verdict. On Thursday, jurors will recommend either death or life in prison without parole. Circuit Judge Charles Graddick, who is not bound by the jury's recommended penalty, will sentence Jones later.
In statements to authorities, Jones, 32, of Miami, Okla., admitted killing Lisa Marie Nichols, 44, of rural Turnerville on Sept. 17, 2004 while high on methamphetamines. But his version of that night changed three months ago with the death of the victim's neighbor. Jones shifted the blame to the neighbor, saying the two of them together entered the victim's home.
Jones showed no emotion as the verdicts were read. Nichols' daughter, Jennifer Murphy, and other family members wept quietly.
Murphy said she will always have a ``place in my heart'' for the attorney general's office and the sheriff's office who brought Jones to justice.
``I believe it's the outcome we'd have all along. We've got justice of Lisa Nichols today,'' said sheriff's detective Paul Burch.
Prosecutors scoffed at Jones' changed testimony.
``Blame the dead guy. A guy who can't come in here and defend himself,'' Assistant Attorney General William Dill told jurors in closing arguments. ``It's one more vicious lie.''
Dill said the truth is Jones ``hates women.''
``He's a coward,'' Dill thundered. ``A vicious murderer.''
The body of the slain woman who lived alone was splashed with gasoline and burned, according to testimony in the Mobile County Circuit Court trial that began Oct. 17.
Defense attorney Greg Hughes said Jones may have ``covered up'' the killing.
``That's not capital murder,'' Hughes said.
Hughes claims investigators ``manipulated'' Jones into confessing while he was ``messed up'' on drugs.
By giving statements, Jones felt he could ``improve his living situation,'' Hughes said. He said Jones was removed from his cell many times, taken off suicide watch and given food and phone access in exchange for details on the killing.
``They were slicking him,'' Hughes said.
Jones gave his version of the murder in testimony Monday and Tuesday, but his account didn't match the prosecution witnesses' chronology of events.
Jones also is charged in separate murders in New Orleans and Georgia and has been described by investigators as a serial killing suspect, who could be linked to at least 10 other murders, including the disappearance of metro Atlanta hairdresser Patrice Endres.
Rob Endres said he attended the final days of Jones' trial partly to support the Nichols' family and to get a better look at Jones. Endres' wife disappeared mysteriously on April 15, 2004, in Forsyth County.
Earlier this year, authorities there said Jones confessed to killing her and dumping her body in a creek.
``I don't know why they haven't charged him,'' Endres said. He said Jones had given police details of his wife's abduction.
Endres said he hopes Jones will say more about Patrice Endres once the Mobile trial ends. Endres said his wife's body probably will never be found, but he hopes to have some ``justice for her and many others vicariously through this trial.''
Jones is charged with murder in the death of Amanda Greenwell, a 16-year-old in Douglasville, Ga., whose remains were found in April 2004, and Katherine Collins, a 45-year-old New Orleans woman whose body was found in February 2004.
Greenwell's father, Rick Greenwell, also attended part of the Jones trial.
State prosecutors told jurors that Jones arrived unannounced at the home of Nichols' neighbor only days before Hurricane Ivan hitting the area Sept. 16, 2004, knocking out electrical services.
After Nichols' was killed, Jones returned to the neighbor's home, showered and watched hunting videos before going to bed.
Jones left the charred body for the victim's family to find, Dill said. She was shot three times in the head. Dill held a mannequin's head before the jury with pointers showing the .25-caliber bullet entries.
Jones, in a sport coat and tie, sat between his two attorneys, arms folding on the table, occasionally glancing at his mother, Jeanne Beard of Miami, Okla., seated in the courtroom next to Jones' girlfriend, Vicki Freeman of Douglasville, Ga.
Besides Jones' many statements, the strongest evidence in the Nichols slaying was blood on Jones' clothing that matched the victim's blood, prosecutors said.
Assistant Attorney General Don Valeska, in his closing, read the jury the taped Dec. 10, 2004 phone call between Jones and a former friend, Mark Bentley.
Jones admitted killing Nichols while high on drugs.
``It was like a nightmare, I was in a movie,'' Jones said in the call from jail. ``I was higher than I had ever been in my whole life.''
Valeska said that was not a confession manipulated by investigators.
``There is no reasonable doubt in this case,'' Valeska said.
He told jurors if they wanted to see evil, look at Jones _ ``a coward, a moral pervert and purveyor of drugs.''