John Ben Jones Jr. was a model citizen during his trial: pleasant and respectful, according to Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff.
He didn’t act like a guy who cut off a friend’s arm, legs and head and stowed the pieces in plastic trash bags – but a pleasant demeanor didn’t count for much. Friday, Chushcoff sentenced Jones, 30, to 17 years in prison, following a conviction for murder in the second degree.
The Tacoma case dates to March 2012. Jones’ mother noticed a foul smell coming from her son’s bedroom. The smell came from the decomposing, partially dismembered body of Wayne Williams, 54, a sometime friend of Jones.
Williams was strangled, according to the county medical examiner. Jones initially said he couldn’t remember anything about the night of the murder; he said he fell asleep on the couch and woke when his mother found the body the next day. Other information from case files suggests Jones had been fighting regularly with Williams in the weeks preceding the death.
During the subsequent trial, Jones shuttled back and forth to Western State Hospital for multiple psychological evaluations. Ultimately, he was fond competent to stand trial. Still, his mental health remained an issue during the sentencing hearing. Prosecutors sought the maximum sentence: roughly 18 years in prison. Defense attorneys wanted less: closer to 10 years.
“Mr. Jones is a very complex man, psychologically, intellectually and emotionally, said defense attorney Dino Sepe. “He suffers from several serious mental illnesses.”
Deputy prosecutor Scott Peters said the crime and its elements – especially the aftermath – justified a maximum sentence.
“Part of what he did was spend an inordinate amount of time cutting this body up,” Peters said. “Hours of work.”
Chushcoff asked if Jones wanted to speak.
“No, not really,” the defendant said.
The judge had the last word. He praised Jones for polite and respectful statements in court. He acknowledged the history of mental health problems. But something else bothered him. In recent statements to psychologists, Jones had changed the story of the killing, softening certain details and adding rationalizations.
That, said Chushcoff, was one reason for a lengthier sentence, among others. He landed at 17 years – closer to the prosecution’s recommendation, but slightly under the maximum.
“One does wonder what was going on in Mr. Jones’ life to get him to the point of killing Mr. Williams, which I have no doubt that he did,” Chushcoff said. “It’s one thing to say nothing – it’s another thing to lie about it.”