Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Georgia district attorney pleads guilty to bribery, influencing witnesses

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A Georgia district attorney pleaded guilty Monday to charges of influencing witnesses and bribery, and also agreed to resign, the Associated Press reported.

Mark Jones, formerly of the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit, was accused of trying to influence a police officer’s and crime victim’s testimony, as well as offering bribes to prosecutors.

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AP reported that the jury deliberated all of Friday and for an hour on Monday, eventually reaching a guilty consensus on five of his nine charges. However, Jones had already accepted the plea deal.

As part of the deal, Jones must serve one year in prison and four years of probation, as well as pay a $1,000 fine. He also submitted his resignation to Governor 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,” Attorney General Chris Carr said in a news release obtained by AP. “This outcome is a victory for integrity in prosecutions and the rule of law.”

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The governor now has the power to appoint a new district attorney general until a new one can be elected. Until then, Acting District Attorney Sheneka Terry will continue in the role after taking over when Jones was suspended.

Superior Court Judge Katherine Lumsden 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.

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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 though 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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