COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – About two months after he was indicted on public corruption charges, Muscogee County DA Mark Jones entered an 11th hour guilty plea Monday morning.
On Nov. 15, 2021, Jones entered guilty pleas on four felony counts:
- Count 1 – Influencing witnesses involving a taped conversation with Columbus Police Cpl. Sherman Hayes.
- Count 6 – Attempted violation of oath of office by offering Chief Assistant DA Sheneka Terry $1,000 for a murder conviction.
- Count 7 – Attempted violation of oath of office by offering Assistant DA Kimberly Schwartz $1,000 to tell a judge she was ready for trial when she wasn’t.
- Count 9 – Violation of oath by pressuring Chris Bailey to drop a complaint against the DA involving his uncle’s homicide case.
Jones was sentenced to five years in prison – one to serve – by Superior Court Judge Katherine Lumsden. “You a got so caught up in being the DA that you forgot about the people you ran to represent,” Lumsden said to Jones during sentencing.
The guilty pleas on four of the nine charges remove Jones from office as district attorney. Before he left the courtroom on Monday, Jones wrote a one-sentence letter to Gov. Brian Kemp resigning.
Jones’ attorney, Katonga Wrigh said the plea deal was the best deal her client could get.
“I think it was the right thing for him to step up and accept responsibility for things that may not have been looked upon in a better favorable light,” said Wright. “He at least has a predictable result.”
Wright joined the case on the eve of the trial a week ago. She asked Lumsden for a continuance but the request was denied by the judge. Jones, acting as his own attorney early on, has previously asked for a speedy trial.
“Whatever happened before I got involved, obviously I can’t comment on,” Wright said. “But I do know any lawyer with more time to formulate facts, especially to develop witnesses, is a big, huge thing. And to be limited on time definitely put you at a disadvantage.”
Here’s what Jones said to News 3 just before the guilty plea. “I fought really hard for the city – and that’s about it,” former DA Mark Jones.
Jones was elected Muscogee County District Attorney in November 2020, took office in January 2021, and was under a nine-count felony indictment by September 2021. All the allegations against Jones involved corruption while in office.
Jones was facing a maximum 20-year sentence if convicted on all charges. Judge Lumsden sentenced Jones on first-offender status. That leaves Jones the possibility to have the conviction removed from his record.
WRBL reached out to Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr for a statement. Carr’s office brought the case against Jones after a GBI investigation. Here’s what he said:
“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. Public servants are trusted to discharge their duties ethically and honestly. And when they do not, we will hold them accountable for their actions. This outcome is a victory for integrity in prosecutions and the rule of law.”
The jury had reached verdicts on five charges before the guilty plea on Nov. 15, 2021 halted the deliberations.
Ironically, one juror told News 3 that they had not yet reached verdicts on three counts involving Corporal Sherman Hayes and the bodycam video outside a Columbus nightclub.
“Initially, I thought looking at the fact that he was intoxicated, would in your mind automatically give him some leeway,” said juror Iesha James. “But he was apparently coherent and you have to take what was being said as the facts.”
Another juror told News 3 there is no doubt Jones was guilty of crimes. “Because of what was stated as far as him breaking his oath and influencing the witnesses,” said juror Patricia Dexter.
Because the office has now been vacated and it serves the six-county Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit, Gov. Kemp will appoint a successor. It is uncertain how long that successor will serve. More than three years remain in the term.
Previous coverage of Mark Jones: