JACKSON – Brett Jones, then 15, went to prison nearly 11 years ago for the stabbing death of his grandfather in Lee County.
Now, Jones is asking a Mississippi appeals court to reconsider his sentence of life without parole for the 2004 slaying.
In July 2013, the Mississippi Supreme Court vacated his original sentence in the wake of a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama that a mandatory ruling of life with no possibility of parole for a juvenile constituted cruel and unusual punishment.
But when Jones’ attorneys returned to Lee County in 2015 asking circuit Judge Thomas Gardner for leniency, he heard their arguments and said no. He again sentenced Jones to life without parole.
Jones’ new attorneys – Robert McDuff and Jacob Howard of Jackson – asked the Mississippi Court of Appeals on March 16 to consider a different fate for their client, serving his time in Parchman’s Unit 30.
“This is the first case in which a Mississippi appellate court has been asked to apply Miller’s demanding substantive rule” and conduct a start-over review “of whether a particular defendant is the ‘rare juvenile offender who exhibits such irretrievable depravity that rehabilitation is impossible’ ” and lifetime in prison is justified, the 140-page legal request states.
In May 2005, a Lee County jury convicted the teenager of killing his grandfather during a heated argument in the older man’s Palmetto community home. Jones says his actions against 68-year-old Bertis Jones were in self-defense.
The appeal, written by Howard, asks the unresolved question of whether federal and state prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment “categorically forbid sentencing a child to life without parole.”
It also asks the court to review the case’s record to determine if Gardner’s court complied with the sentencing and legal standards mandated by the Miller case and in the Mississippi Supreme Court’s Parker v. State of Mississippi decision. which requires a judge making the sentence decision to consider mitigating factors counseling against a child’s lifetime in prison.
At Jones’ re-sentence hearing, the state offered no new evidence or testimony.
But his defense team, led by Thomas Freeland IV of Oxford, who died shortly after the hearing, offered the court a variety of evidence it said showed why leniency was appropriate: a homelife “saturated” with physical and verbal abuse, neglect, Jones’ medical treatment for mental health disorders and his record of good behavior in prison.
In his appeal, Jones asks that his life-without-parole sentence be vacated and that he be re-sentenced to life with eligibility for parole. In the alternative, he asks for his sentence to be vacated and sent back to Lee County for re-sentencing by a jury.