Testimony finished in sentencing hearing for Mark Jones - ABC 12 – WJRT – Flint, MI

Testimony finished in sentencing hearing for Mark Jones

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(03/06/14) - Testimony has finished in a sentencing hearing which will determine whether a Flint teenager, convicted of first-degree felony murder, will spend life in prison without parole.

The hearing is required, after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling declared mandatory life in prison without parole sentences for juveniles unconstitutional.

Mark Jones, now 17, was just 14 when he shot and killed 73-year-old Merlyne Wray inside her south side Flint home.

The point of this hearing is for prosecutors to try to convince the judge Jones should be sentenced to life in prison without parole and for defense attorneys to show he shouldn't, that he can be rehabilitated.

The hearing started Wednesday, March 5 and continued Thursday.

A psychologist, who evaluated Jones in January, says she concluded he's a very troubled young man and had been from very early on.

"He began using alcohol and using illicit drugs, specifically marijuana, Xanax and ecstasy at age 14," says Dr. Karen Clark. "He has been arrested approximately 15 times starting at age 12."

Clark says Jones has a total IQ of 77, which is borderline.

Other doctors had diagnosed him with having ADHD and bi-polar disorder.

Both days, we heard about Jones' poor attendance in school, bad behavior, dysfunctional home life and criminal history.

Clark says he's learned predatory behavior is acceptable - at least to him.

"I think in a very controlled environment of prison that he would be capable of being rehabilitated," she says. "I don't think it would be a quick turnaround for him, but I think over long years, maybe decades."

Clark says she doesn't know if he's willing or able to try to change.

Jones' mother, Tiniya Tyler, testified she tried to help him in school and even took him to counseling and attempted, unsuccessfully, to steer him clear of cousins she believed were taking pills and smoking marijuana.

Jones' father was in prison for the first 12-13 years of his life and Tyler had two daughters, also with absent fathers, to raise too. They moved around a lot. He attended a number of different schools.

Tyler says believes her son committed other crimes, but when Genesee County Circuit Court Judge Archie Hayman pressed her about Wray's murder?

"You don't believe he's responsible for having killed this lady, is that what you're telling me?"

"Yes," Tyler replied.

Wray's family was in court for the full two days of testimony.

Jurors convicted Jones of first-degree felony murder and other crimes in November.

It could be months before Hayman decides on Jones' sentence. Both sides will have time to review what's been talked about the last two days and prepare briefs for Hayman. He'll have time to review that. They're scheduled to have their briefs filed by April 14 and then be back in court May 9.

This is only the second hearing like this held in Genesee County - both by the same judge.

Juwan Wickware was the first teen in Genesee County, and likely Michigan, to have this kind of sentencing hearing following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Hayman sentenced him to life in prison without parole.

Tuesday, Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation updating sentencing procedures for juvenile defendants, bringing Michigan in line with national standards.

It establishes a revised sentencing process for pending and future cases involving juveniles convicted of first degree murder, felony murder or those who are repeat offender in certain sexual assault cases.

Juveniles can no longer automatically be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

"These changes will ensure Michiganders of all ages receive a fair trial while aligning our state justice system with federal law," Snyder said.

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