By Jason A. Smith
Jury deliberations will continue Saturday, in the retrial of a Stockbridge man suspected of killing his wife.
Closing arguments were given from the prosecution and the defense, in the case of the state of Georgia vs. Changa Ola Jones, Sr. Jones, 38, is charged with murder and felony murder, in the death of Natasha Monique Brown-Jones, who was found strangled to death in her bedroom Oct. 24, 2005.
A 2008 trial in the case resulted in a 9-3 jury vote in favor of acquittal for the defendant. Because the panel's vote was not unanimous, Superior Court Judge Brian Amero was forced to declare a mistrial.
Friday, the defendant's attorney, Public Defender Gary Bowman, began his closing remarks by reminding the jury that the burden of proof lies, not with him, but with the District Attorney's Office. He said a lack of evidence, combined with conflicting testimony and "common sense," make a conviction impossible against his client.
To bolster his point, Bowman addressed the difference between direct and circumstantial evidence, and claimed the latter is all the state has presented in the trial. "Direct evidence is, I saw this person shoot that person, or I saw prints and I have DNA that matches those prints," said Bowman. "Circumstantial evidence is, you go to bed, get up, and the ground is covered in white. You didn't see it snow, but it's obvious that it snowed. There is no direct evidence in this case. It's all circumstantial.
"To warrant a conviction on circumstantial evidence, the proven facts must not only be consistent with guilt, but also must exclude every feasible theory other than guilt," he said.
Speaking on behalf of the prosecution in her closing arguments, Assistant District Attorney Sandi Rivers also addressed Bowman's snow analogy. As family members of the defendant and the victim listened in court, Rivers said that, although the case against Jones is circumstantial, there is enough evidence to convict him. "If you wake up and the ground is white, and you didn't see it snow, ... the reasonable assumption is that it snowed overnight," she said. "The reasonable assumption that you can conclude from that defendant's behavior is that he murdered his wife."
Bowman reiterated the defense's claim that Jones was working in Jacksonville, Fla., at the time of his wife's death. He said the prosecution has yet to produce witnesses, a murder weapon, fingerprints or a motive indicating otherwise.
Rivers acknowledged that the state does not have any eyewitnesses to strengthen its claims. Still, she said she does have an "ear witness," in the form of Changa's and Natasha's son, Niyo, who heard his parents "arguing in a low tone" on the night before the victim died.
"The door was shut, he was at the other end of the hall, and he heard his mama, and he heard his daddy," said Rivers.
Bowman attempted to cast doubt on the integrity of the investigation conducted by Henry County police. He suggested that authorities had made up their minds about Jones' guilt before examining all the evidence available to them.
"It wasn't an investigation of the facts," said Bowman. "It wasn't an investigation to find out what could have happened. It wasn't an investigation to see if anybody else could have done this. They said, 'He did it.'"
Bowman also cast doubts about the meaning of a twig that police found in a hallway of the victim's home, and threats allegedly made by Jones against his wife.
Bowman said the state's theory of how the twig got in the house "doesn't make sense," and he attacked the prosecution's general approach toward evidence collected in the case. "What they want you to do is to forget all the evidence, and build a house of conviction based on ... hearsay, sticks and a couple of threats," Bowman told the jury. "I don't know who killed this lady, and you don't either."
Rivers claimed the twig was part of a scheme devised by Jones to make his wife's murder look like the work of an intruder. She said that Jones formed the intent to kill Natasha as early as Oct. 13, several days before her body was found. "He booked a room in Florida to establish an alibi ... so you all would think he was in Jacksonville," said Rivers.
Phone records for Changa Jones indicate that he was in Florida at 6:30 p.m., on Oct. 23. According to the prosecutor, the defendant had ample time to arrive at his Stockbridge home by 11:30 p.m., or midnight.
"Between midnight and 8 a.m., we don't have any knowledge of where Changa Jones was, other than in that house, because Niyo heard him."
Rivers cited testimony from witnesses, who said Changa Jones told Natasha Jones, two days before the murder, to move out of her home or he would kill her.
The prosecutor said the defendant was the "only person" who could have killed his wife.
The jury examined the evidence for more than seven hours Friday, before adjourning their deliberations. They will reconvene at 1 p.m., today.