A little more than two weeks ago, Michael Wayne Jones decided to plead guilty to four counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder for the death of his family.
Now Jones, 41, of Summerfield, faces a jury of his peers, who after hearing from the prosecution and defense will decide whether he spends the rest of his life in prison or faces the death penalty.
The jury − 10 men and 5 women, three of them alternates − were picked from 100 people summoned to the Marion County Judicial Center on Monday. The penalty phase proceedings began Thursday with opening statements from the prosecution and defense.
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How Jones was captured, and how the victims were killed
Jones was taken into custody in Brantley County, Georgia, in September 2019 after the murders of his wife, Casei, and the couple's four children. Two of the children had a different father and two were Jones'. The names of the children: Cameron Bowers, 9; Preston Bowers, 4; Mercalli Jones, 2; and her 11-month-old sister, Aiyana Jones.
Jones was involved in a single-vehicle crash and told law enforcement officials that his wife's body was inside the vehicle.
Marion County sheriff's detectives were called and they, along with Georgia authorities, recovered the bodies of the children, which were stored in totes and a suitcase. Jones showed law enforcement officials the location of the children.
When Jones was interviewed by local officials, Jones told them he used a metal baseball bat to repeatedly hit his wife. He also provided details on how the children died. Law enforcement officials said Jones drowned or strangled the children at different times on separate days.
Detectives believe the victims were killed between July 10 and the end of August 2019.
Prosecutor Amy Berndt argues for the death penalty
On Thursday morning, Assistant State Attorney Amy Berndt and Executive Assistant Public Defender John Spivey explained to the jury their respective points of view.
Using charts that showed different timelines, Berndt said Jones "brutally murdered" his two children and two step-children, adding that he "savagely" beat his wife to death with a baseball bat. Her blood was on the floor and ceiling, Berndt said.
The prosecutor went into detail on the ways and manner of deaths experienced by the five at the hands of Jones. In one instance, Berndt said, Jones told investigators that while killing one of his stepsons, it seemed "like it took forever."
At each interval, Berndt said, Jones engaged in a "web of lies" as he covered his tracks in the days and weeks that went by. For instance, Berndt said Jones would use his wife's phone to text, and her Facebook account to send messages to people so they would think that she was alive.
Jones drove the decomposing bodies around with him, Berndt said. One trip was to visit an ex-wife in Jacksonville, where he saw her and their three children. The prosecutor said Jones asked her to lie for him when sheriff's detectives were trying to find Jones' wife and the four missing children.
Berndt told jurors that the only appropriate punishment is "death for the defendant."
Defense attorney Spivey tells jurors his client deserves to live
Spivey said Jones, wearing a suit and tie and sitting with his defense team, has pleaded guilty, took responsibility for the deaths, and should be punished. But while there's punishment, it should not be death, Spivey said.
The defense lawyer said that, throughout the course of the penalty phase proceedings, the defense will show that Jones suffered from various mental illnesses, was dominated by the opposite sex, and had a rough upbringing.
As a child, Spivey said, Jones was molested; his father went to prison; and his stepfather was abusive. He described Jones as a lost, confused and abused child who lived in a run-down residence in Vermont.
Jones had a period of normalcy when he joined the U.S. Navy. But in the military, Jones was dominated by an ex-girlfriend, which would be a constant theme in his life, Spivey said. Leaving the military, Jones met a woman --- not Casei --- they got married and had three children.
Spivey said when Jones worked at a clinic, he met Casei and they had an affair. They married, and he was dominated by Casei. Everything came crashing down on Jones, who by that time had seven children to feed, Spivey said.
After Casei's death, Spivey said, Jones believed the only way to make it right was to reunite the children with his deceased wife.
The defense lawyer said experts will show that Jones' traumatic experiences and episodes led to a "freefall of psychotic chaos."
Time after time at the Marion County Jail, where Jones is being held, there have been examples of Jones' irrational state. There was a time when Jones was having a loud conversation with himself in his cell. There were times when Jones would bang his head against the door. With a cut on his head, Spivey said, Jones tried to remove the voices from his head.
Spivey said it shows "a portrait of a man out of control." Life in prison is the most just decision, Spivey told jurors.
The defense team includes lawyers Morris Carranza and Amanda Sizemore. Assistant State Attorney Rich Buxman is working with Berndt for the prosecution.
Casei Jones' family and others take the witness stand
Casei Jones' two sisters, Brandi and Sarah Gilbert, testified on behalf of the state. Both talked about how close their sister was with the family.
Sarah Gilbert read a statement about her sister's death. She said Casei's passing has devastated their family and the pain has been torture.
She said she had to quit her job because it involved children's clothing. Gilbert said she stayed in bed for six months. She said the four children will never graduate from school, be married or have their own children.
Law enforcement officials, a school official, residents and the boys' father took the stand for the state. Those called to the stand testified individually on a number of topics that include the children's attendance records, alleged text messages from Casei Jones, interactions with Michael Jones, and a description of the crime scene.
Contact Austin L. Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org or @almillerosb
This article originally appeared on Ocala Star-Banner: Ocala jury mulls death penalty or life in prison in family murder case