Utah man headed for trial in murders of wife, stepson
By nate carlisle
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Mar 26 2014 10:43AM
St. George • Whoever killed Michelle Jones and her son Owen Christopher Ellis stood above them and fired .45-caliber bullets into their bodies, a detective testified Wednesday.
Prosecutors believe the gunman was Jones’ husband, Richard Andrew Jones.
Three years after the homicides, 5th District Judge Eric Ludlow agreed. After listening to preliminary hearing evidence, Ludlow ordered the 49-year-old man to stand trial on two counts of aggravated murder.
The charge carries the potential for the death penalty, but Deputy Washington County Attorney Ryan Shaum told the judge he will not seek the death penalty, citing the wishes of the victims’ family.
Richard Jones, who had sat quietly in the courtroom, shackled and wearing an white and orange striped jumpsuit, pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Ludlow scheduled a trial for Nov. 10-14.
The case had been delayed because on the same night his wife and stepson died at their Washington, Utah, home, Richard Jones stood in the garage, put a .45-caliber pistol underneath his chin and fired in a suicide attempt. Jones recovered and has been deemed competent to assist in his own defense.
Michelle Jones’ mother, Cheryl Wahlgren, and brother, Craig Watson, listened to the testimony, sometimes gasping at the violent details.
"We learned," Watson said after the testimony, "a lot more about [the homicides] we didn’t know about."
Prosecutors played a 911 call they say Michelle Jones made on Feb. 18, 2011.
"My husband just shot my son," she said in a raised and hurried voice.
Michelle Jones then gave her address and answered a few questions for the dispatcher.
Then Michelle Jones said: "He’s got a gun he’s going to hurt me now."
The prosecution stopped the recording after that statement.
Washington City police Detective Kyle Bell testified he arrived and found 42-year-old Michelle Jones’s body in front of the house. He found four bullet holes in her upper body and neck. (Medical examiner Ed Leis later testified she was actually shot five times.)
Bell testified that indentations in the concrete and bullet fragments found underneath her body indicated someone was standing over her when bullets were fired.
Bell went to the garage and found more blood on the floor, spatter on a cabinet and a bullet hole in the ceiling, he testified. That’s where a SWAT team found Richard Jones after he shot himself.
In a bedroom, Bell found the 19-year-old Ellis’ body face up on his bed. Bell said he counted six bullet holes in Ellis. Bell also found bullet holes and fragments in the mattress beneath Ellis’ body, leading Bell to conclude that, like with the teenager’s mother, the gunman had stood above Ellis.
"There were shell casings scattered throughout the room," Bell testified.
Washington City Lt. Vance Bithell testified that he and another detective traveled to a Las Vegas hospital to interview Richard Jones four days after the shootings. Bithell testified that Richard Jones, with chin and head wounds still visible, did not respond when asked if he shot a child, but answered, yes, when asked about shooting his wife.
On, March 24, Bithell returned to the hospital, and after reading Richard Jones his rights, Bithell said he acknowledged shooting his stepson and wife.
Richard Jones said there were concerns his stepson was using drugs and his living within the home was causing tension, Bithell said.
Bithell also said Richard Jones told him that he and his wife drank alcohol that night.
Bithell testified that Richard Jones told him: "I started thinking about my .45 and how much help it could be."
"He felt he just wanted peace," Bithell added, "and just wanted some release from all this, and that’s why he turned to his .45."
During cross-examination, defense attorney Jeremy Delicino asked Bithell if he sought advice from medical staff or inquired about what medications Richard Jones was taking before interviewing him. Bithell said he asked only enough questions to determine if Richard Jones could speak and answer the questions accurately.
Bithell also acknowledged that Richard Jones gave some incorrect answers in the interview, including saying he was still in St. George, giving the wrong day for the shooting and saying he shot his wife inside the house.
Defense attorney Stephen McCaughey said after the hearing that he will attempt to suppress his client’s statements at the hospital, but acknowledged that prosecutors have other evidence.
"He doesn’t remember what happened. Some other witnesses do," McCaughey said. "It’s a tough case."