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Jury deliberations underway in Jones murder trial

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

A Henry County Superior Court jury is now deliberating the guilt or innocence of a Stockbridge man, who in being tried for the third time in connection with the slaying of his wife.

Closing arguments were given by the prosecution and the defense Wednesday, in the trial of Changa Ola Jones, Sr. Jones, 38, is charged with malice murder, felony murder and aggravated assault. His wife, Natasha Monique Brown Jones, was found dead in her home on Carlsbad Cove in Stockbridge Oct. 24, 2005. She had been strangled.

The first two trials in the case -- in March 2008, and May of 2009 -- resulted in mistrials. Jones originally elected to represent himself in the third trial, but handed the case over to his assisting counsel, Michelle Clark, during the court proceedings.

Clark, in her closing arguments, said the Henry County Police Department and the Henry County District Attorney's Office "had blinders on" when they centered on Changa Jones as a suspect. "This was a rush to judgment," said Clark. "And as we all know, when we rush, we don't do our best job. The police department went to that scene ... and they rushed to judge Mr. Jones."

The defense attorney added that the case against Changa Jones contains only "circumstantial evidence." According to Clark, the state has obtained no direct evidence linking the defendant to his wife's death and, as such, cannot meet its "burden of proof."

"To warrant a conviction on circumstantial evidence, the proof of that must not only be consistent with the theory of guilt, but also must exclude every other reasonable theory, other than the guilt of the accused," she said. "That is the burden that the state carries in this case."

Clark also addressed a relationship the victim had with another man, Robert Swain, prior to her death. The attorney said Swain presented "a sea of contradictions" during his testimony in the trial, regarding an alleged threat Changa Jones made toward his wife.

"He said, 'What I heard Mr. Jones say is, Natasha, I'm gonna kill you on Monday,'" said Clark. "He said also, 'Mr. Jones knew we were having an affair.' He comes back ... and says, 'Oh, he didn't know we were having an affair.' Well, which one is it?"

Clark took issue with testimony from the couple's 12-year-old son, who testified regarding the night before his mother was killed. The boy told the court he thought he heard his parents arguing in their bedroom, despite the defense's claim that Changa Jones was in Florida at the time.

"'I think I heard,' isn't conclusive," said Clark.

During closing arguments for the prosecution, Assistant District Attorney Sandi Rivers said Clark was attempting to "confuse" the jury by "clouding the issues" surrounding Natasha Jones' murder. Rivers said Changa Jones planned to kill his wife, adding that he ran from authorities upon discovering he was a suspect in the case.

According to Rivers, the defendant's phone records back up the state's claim. "Changa Jones had made up his mind when he turned his phone off in Jacksonville, Fla. ... on Oct. 23 that he was coming to Stockbridge, Ga., to kill somebody," Rivers told the jury.

"Changa Jones said that the reason he ran was because he knew his wife's family was accusing him of murder," said Rivers. "Why did he stop using his phone on the 23rd? It wasn't because his wife's family was accusing him of murder. It was because he was leaving Jacksonville, Fla., and coming to Stockbridge, Ga., to murder his wife."

Rivers continued that Changa Jones was "overcome with fury" after finding out Natasha Jones was planning to take her son to France to be with Swain, a professional basketball player in Europe. Changa Jones, said the prosecutor, knew his wife "didn't want him no more," and staged his wife's murder to look like an intruder had killed her.

The aggravated-assault charge against Jones stems from an alleged incident from Sept. 1, 2005. Rivers, during the trial, played a 911 tape for the jury, in which Natasha Jones said the defendant threw a concrete block through the windshield of her vehicle. "You heard the victim's own words," said Rivers. "You heard her demeanor. You heard her call on the 911 tape."

The prosecutor said Changa Jones "never denied" his involvement in the alleged assault on his wife.

"He said, 'We worked things out,'" added Rivers.

The jury examined the evidence in the case for more than five hours Wednesday, and is expected to resume deliberations today, at 9 a.m.