Disinformation on the Facts of Major Cases

Appellate court opinions and news reports about cases often begin with a brief statement of the facts of the case. Too often, though, those “facts” are not facts at all. Sometimes they are merely allegations in a case that has not yet been tried, assumed by the court due to the procedural posture of the case. Sometimes they are representations by an attorney on one side. The public is often left with a seriously distorted view of what really happened in the case.

Jones v. Mississippi, to be argued in the U.S. Supreme Court on election day, is a widely misreported case. The brief by Jones’s lawyers recite his own self-serving testimony about the circumstances of his murder of his own grandfather as if they were actual facts.

Brett Jones, then 15, murdered his grandfather, Bertis Jones, 68. The brief for petitioner contains these paragraphs in the statement of facts:

On the morning of August 9, 2004, Mr. Jones discovered [Brett’s girlfriend] in Brett’s bedroom and angrily ordered her out of his house. Jones, 122 So. 3d at 728. Later that day, Brett was making a sandwich when his grandfather entered the kitchen. Jones, 938 So. 2d at 314. The two began to argue. Id. Brett “sassed” Mr. Jones, and Mr. Jones pushed him. Id. Brett pushed him back. Id.

Mr. Jones then swung at Brett. Id. Brett “had a steak knife in his hand from making [the] sandwich” and “he ‘threw the knife forward,’ stabbing his grandfather.” Id. When Mr. Jones continued to come at Brett, Brett grabbed a different knife, and stabbed Mr. Jones a total of eight times. Id. at 314–15.

With these unequivocal statements of fact supported by citations to the opinion in the first appeal in this case, one might think that it is established that these are the facts. That is, one would think that the grandfather was the first one to use any force by pushing Brett first, that he was the first one to use actual violent force by swinging at Brett, and that after an initial stab wound he continued the violence by coming at Brett.

But the opinion cited says only that the defendant testified to that version of events. That is a huge difference. The Mississippi Court of Appeals did not decide whether any of those things are true. That is not the job of a court of appeals. The court only decided, correctly in my opinion, that on the trial record before it there was no reversible error under the law as it existed in 2006.

Of all forms of evidence in a criminal trial, the self-serving testimony of the defendant is the least reliable. Yet defense counsel presents this story to the Supreme Court as established truth.

Subsequent changes in the law required resentencing. So what did the trial judge (whose job it is to find facts) say at the resentencing?

On considering the facts as they determined them to be beyond a reasonable doubt, the jury returned a verdict of guilty of murder, thereby rejecting the defense of self-defense and manslaughter, a lesser-included offense. The jury plainly had as possible verdicts in the case, the verdict of not guilty, manslaughter, or murder.

The defendant, Brett Jones, was at the time 15 years of age at the time that he stabbed his grandfather to death. A fair consideration of the evidence indicates that the killing of Mr. Bert Jones was particularly brutal.

During the course of the murder, the defendant stabbed the victim eight times and was forced to resort to a second knife when the first knife broke while used in the act. The victim appears to have died outside the house, leaving a great amount of blood on the ground.

The defendant attempted to conceal his act by placing the body of the dead or dying Bert Jones in an enclosed part of the garage and attempting to wash away the blood on the ground with a water hose.

He and his female companion then left the scene of the murder and were apprehended by authorities later in Nettleton, approximately 20 miles or so away.

There is no evidence that indicates that anyone other than the defendant participated in the killing of Bert Jones. Likewise, there is no evidence that the defendant acted under the pressure of any family or peer and no evidence of mistreatment or threat by Bert Jones, except the self-defense claim asserted and rejected by the jury.

A different picture, to put it mildly.

Mike Jones, Bertis Jones’s son, is incensed that his nephew Brett continues to defame his father after all these years. His statement is available www.teenkillers.org.

My father Bertis was murdered in 2004. He was 68-years-old. The murderer was his grandson and my nephew, Brett Jones. My father was a good man. He had previously worked as a repairman for Ford Motor Company and then as a truck driver. He was not violent and he certainly never harmed any of his grandchildren. In fact, my family lived next door to him for over five years and my children were with him daily. My children loved spending time with him. He was well-respected and honest and he was my best friend.

The violent behavior Brett claims would have been out of character for his grandfather. The only actual witnesses to the incident were Brett and Bertis, and Bertis can’t testify because Brett murdered him. Does that mean we have to accept Brett’s version of what happened? Absolutely not. Not only is the defendant’s version not established fact, its major elements have been rejected by the fact-finders in this case.

CJLF’s amicus brief points this out, although in abbreviated form due to space limitations, at page 3. Let us hope that the Supreme Court’s opinion in this case does not uncritically repeat the murderer’s unsupported and rejected claims.