A convicted killer was back in Van Buren County Circuit Court last week, claiming he was inadequately represented at his capital murder trial.
Rodney Lee Jones, convicted in the 2008 shotgun slaying of his ex-wife at her Holley Mountain home, told Judge Charles E. Clawson last Thursday that failed to investigate the affect of all the medications Jones said he was taking and advised him to reject a plea deal from the prosecutor’s office.
Jones was sentenced to life in prison at his trial. The state had sought the death penalty. He said then-Prosecutor Marcus Vaden had offered him a 40-year sentence in exchange for Jones’ guilty plea. Jones said his Little Rock attorney Bill James told him not to take the deal, that James could do better for Jones.
James testified last week that he did not advise Jones to refuse the deal. The attorney said that anytime he is handling a death-penalty case he always advises his client to take any deal that would keep him off death row.
"The idea that I told him not to take it is preposterous," James said.
"I never ever told him not to take 40 (years)," James said. He said he remembered telling Jones the circumstances under which the charge against him might be lessened, but did not advise him to reject Vaden’s offer.
James also testified that as far as the medications, "that was the cornerstone of our defense. He said he focused on two that carried "black label" warnings of homicidal and suicidal ideations, but said even one of his own experts would not accept that as a defense.
"I don’t know what else we could have done," James said, adding, "I would never say there was nothing more that could be done."
James said he believed something "snapped" in Jones, causing him to drive from Colorado to Van Buren County and shoot his ex-wife. The behavior was "totally unlike" Jones’ previous behavior, James said.
If Jones had brought any other drugs to James’ attention, the attorney said he would have brought it to the attention of one of the defense experts. "I try to win my cases," James said.
James said he has been an attorney for 19 years, practicing criminal law exclusively, including several death-penalty cases.
Clawson said he would making his Rule 37 ruling by Sept. 15.