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Minor crime, bad decision almost doomed thief

Photo by Elaine Rackley
Randal Montrell Jones, 26, of Stone Mountain,  addressed the court during his May 4 trial in Henry County Superior Court. Jones told Judge Brian Amero he takes responsibility for his actions, during an Oct. 12 police chase. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Photo by Elaine Rackley Randal Montrell Jones, 26, of Stone Mountain, addressed the court during his May 4 trial in Henry County Superior Court. Jones told Judge Brian Amero he takes responsibility for his actions, during an Oct. 12 police chase. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

By Elaine Rackley

erackley@henryherald.com

A man recently sentenced to serve more than a decade in state prison, said his brief crime spree in Henry County began with what he saw as an opportunity to steal.

Randal Montreal Jones, 25, of Stone Mountain, said he saw a Miller's Beer minivan parked in the Kroger parking lot, at 85 Price Quarters Road in McDonough, and it was easily accessible.

"I entered the van because the door was open," said Jones, during an interview with the Henry Daily Herald. "No big deal, just get it and run. Bad habits are hard to kill."

What Jones saw as an opportunity to steal three cases of beer, almost cost him his life, endangered the life of a Henry County police officer, and could have resulted in three decades in prison.

The theft alone would have been deemed a misdemeanor, by law. However, during the incident, Jones said he felt threatened, and tried to escape. The officer involved -- feeling threatened, too -- shot Jones as he tried to escape. Jones was hit in the back, and the neck.

Court records of Jones' criminal background show convictions for thefts in Cobb, Gwinnett, DeKalb and Rockdale counties, from 2003 to 2009.

There were no presentations at Jones' recent trial that he was interested in doing anything last October, other than steal the beer that he took, according to his attorney, Henry County Public Defender Gerald Privin. His argument won the approval of a jury of five men and eight women. Privin said his client's actions did not fit the charge of aggravated assault on the police officer.

The public defender said his client pleaded guilty to unlawfully entering the van and stealing the beer, but apparently convinced the jury his client was running for his life, rather than trying to hurt the police officers, who were chasing him.

"[Henry County Police Officer Jeffery] Johnson admitted he had his gun drawn at the time Randal drives away ... he flees, he drove through the subdivision. Randal does not know where he is going," said Privin, during his closing argument. He reminded the jury there was no testimony regarding traffic, children playing, or the general public being in any danger during the police chase involving Jones.

"If [Jones} wanted to do something offensive to the officer, he could have done that earlier. Randal's whole idea is to get the heck out of there ... He was trying to get away, he drove recklessly."

However, Henry Assistant District Attorney Trea Pipkin argued that the DeKalb County man used his car as a weapon, against the officer. "The defense wants you to believe, after he crashed his car into a tree, he backs his car up into the police Crown Victoria and forces it backwards," said Pipkin. "Is that reasonable? Or, did he want to eliminate the only person who could arrest him, the only person who could have taken him to jail?

"Uphold the law and do justice," added Pipkin. "A man came in this county, fled from officers of this county, and then tried to eliminate the only person who could apprehend him of the crime. I challenge you, don't split the baby on this, please don't try to make everybody happy."

Jurors sided with Privin.

"I have always taken responsibility for my actions," said Jones, as he stood up to address Henry County Superior Judge Brian Amero before sentencing.

The judge told Jones he took into consideration his past criminal history, and handed down an 11-year sentence, to be served in prison.

A husband, and father of two, Jones said he was worried sitting in the courtroom May 4, before jurors rendered their verdict. He was found guilty of entering an automobile with intent to commit a felony, fleeing or attempting to elude an officer, reckless conduct, and obstruction of an officer. Privin said he believes the jury did the right thing.

"I have no complaints with the outcome of the case," he added. "My client is pleased with the outcome, he knew what he was facing."