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Jones sentenced to life plus 20 years in 2007 murder
Thomas Lee Jones, Jr. - photo by FILE
    A protest planned to take place Tuesday prior to a murder sentencing never happened, but the convicted killer made dramatic statements in  the courtroom before a Bulloch County Superior Court Judge handed down his sentence.
    Therise Jones stood outside the Bulloch County Superior Court Judicial Annex Tuesday afternoon, with only one other woman, waiting for others to appear in support of her efforts to declare her son's innocence.  She claims  her son, Thomas Lee Jones, Jr.,21,  is not guilty of shooting 19-year-old Hephzibah resident Julius Isaac McReynolds Oct. 28, 2007, at Club Jackson's on Old Register Road.
    But Bulloch County Superior Court Judge Gates Peed sentenced Thomas Jones to life plus 20 years for the murder. Jones was found guilty by a Bulloch County jury in October.
    Just minutes before the 1:30 p.m. sentencing, a third young lady joined Ms. Jones as they stood outside the courthouse in the chilly breeze. Ms. Jones wore a black tee shirt over a pea green outfit. The shirt bore the words "Free Thomas Lee Jones Jr." on the front, and "I am the mother" on back.  One of  the other two women wore a similar shirt, with "I got you Cuzzo" on the back.
    When no one else showed up for the  protest, Ms. Jones and her two companions joined others inside the courtroom. Jones told the Statesboro Herald in an earlier interview she expected people from the Rev. Al Sharpton's office, the  National Action Network; possibly the NAACP, as well as other groups would be in attendance to show support for her son.
    Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Daphne Jarriel, who prosecuted the case, spoke before the sentencing and asked Peed to consider the maximum sentence for Jones.
    "Nine rounds were fired," she said. "It is very unfortunate that someone lost his life and very fortunate there weren't other people that were injured by the conduct of Mr. Jones that night. Julius McReynolds was a total and complete stranger... Thomas Jones unleashed nine rounds chasing him ... and that shows what kind of person he is."
    Jones shot nine times as he chased McReynolds, she said. Shell casings were found but no gun was recovered, except for other firearm witnesses, including a police officer, saw another man toss into a car. That gun was never fired, according to court records.
    Jarriel read an emotion-filled letter from the victim's  mother, who was in the courtroom. Ms. McReynolds wrote: "Since his death we haven't been able to sleep or think straight ... why did this happen?"
    The victim's father, Jefferson McReynolds, took the stand to address Peed, asking him to give Jones the maximum sentence. Showing anger and emotional pain, he was at times so overcome with grief he was unable to speak for several moments.
    "My son fought as a gentleman, with his bare hands," he said. "He did not deserve to be shot down to die. Mr. Jones is a very evil man, to shoot an unarmed man three times instead of fighting my son like a man, with his fists."
    The shooting occurred after a fight inside the bar. Investigators were unable to learn why the fight took place, according to court records.
    McReynolds spoke for several minutes, his anger apparent as he called Jones names and said "He might be a man in the streets  .... but he's not a real man."
    Jarriel spoke again afterward, asking Peed for the maximum sentence in hopes that "it sends a message ... that (crime) is not going to be tolerated."
    Thomas Jones sat silently during McReynolds's comments, but several women in the courtroom mumbled under their breath as he spoke. One woman sobbed.
Jones takes stand
   Against attorney John Edward Morrison's advice, Jones took the stand.
    After expressing sympathy for the McReynolds family, he launched into a tirade about the case, proclaiming his innocence.
    "This trial was based on mere speculation," he said, reading from a written note. "I am a man who will not surrender my life to the good of politics ... nearly 10 witnesses vouched for my innocence."
    Jones said he asked to take a polygraph test and said "I was used as a scapegoat (in) this lousy, lazy investigation."
    He claimed forensics failed to prove his guilt and proved he did not fire a weapon. Jarriel said in an earlier interview there were over two and a half hours between the shooting and when police located Jones. He had switched clothing with a friend who  testified against him and could easily have washed his hands, she said.
    Jones read "I say justice will be served. Maybe not  today, but justice will be served."
    Then he abandoned his notes, but continued.
    "The DA (Jarriel) knew from the jump I did not kill this boy, " he said. "Lee Polk killed him. She knows I am innocent."
    Statesboro Police Lt. Anthony Gore and club owner Maurice Jackson were at the club when the shooting occurred, and saw Polk toss a hand gun into a car. They held him for questioning, and the gun they recovered from the car was found to never have been fired, according to court records.
    Morrison asked Peed to make all charges other than the life sentence for murder run concurrently.
    Peed handed down the maximum sentence: the three charges of malice murder, felony murder and aggravated assault were merged and garnered a life sentence.
    Jones received a sentence of five years each for the charges of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony and false statements and writings, to run consecutively. The charges of  discharging a firearm on or near a public highway and possession of a deadly weapon at public gatherings each garnered a 12 months' sentence, to run concurrently, and Peed sentenced Jones to a 10 year sentence for carrying a weapon within a school safety zone, to run concurrently for a total sentence of life, plus 20 years.
    When Peed asked Jones if he had any questions about the sentence, Jones said "I've been railroaded."
    "That is a statement, not a question," Peed said.
    "Why?" Jones asked.
    "The court deems that is appropriate," Peed replied.
    After Peed informed Jones of his rights to appeal, Jones said "All my rights are violated. I'm innocent. Innocent."
    Ms. Jones agreed to speak to a reporter after the trial, but was unable to be found after she left the courtroom.  She left the Statesboro Herald a voice mail message later, including the statement "This is far from over," but was not reachable by her cell phone number later Tuesday.

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