The trial of Terrence G. Jones started Tuesday morning inside courtroom C of the Liberty County Justice Center. Liberty County Superior Court Judge D. Jay Stewart had the 12 jurors and two alternates sworn in, and opening arguments immediately followed.
Jones is facing two counts of murder, nine counts of aggravated assault, nine counts of armed robbery, one count of burglary, one count of possession of a firearm or knife during commission of or attempt to commit certain felonies and one count of possession of a firearm by convicted felon.
On Oct. 29, 2010, during an apparent poker game at an apartment in the 600 block of South Main Street, two men wearing masks reportedly burst inside. According to testimony presented by Atlantic Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Melissa Poole, the two men demanded money and personal possessions and fired several shots at the people inside the home. Poole said one of the men then walked up to Smalls and shot him twice in the back of the head.
“Mr. Smalls paid the ultimate price,” Poole said adding that another man was grazed by a bullet and still another was shot in his side. “I believe the testimony that you are going to hear over the next few days is going to show you that Mr. Smalls didn’t fight them. He didn’t argue with them. He didn’t do anything to try and provoke and anger or to cause what happened to him to happen. He was down on the floor. … As the money was being scooped up and shoved in pockets and as they were getting ready to leave, that smaller man came up to Smalls. He knelt down on the floor by where Smalls was laying and shot him twice in the back of the head.”
The case remained unsolved until new evidence was brought to the attention of law-enforcement officers in 2013, Poole told the jurors.
“New evidence that put that gun in a man’s hands,” she said and proceeded to tell the jury that Terrence Jones was that man. “It was he that was in there with his face covered by a mask. It was he who held that gun in his hand. His finger on the trigger and it was he who knelt down that day and after terrorizing all those people … taking their money … shooting Mr. Fleming … knelt down and delivered two gunshots to the back of Mark Smalls’ head.”
“Hell has no fury like a woman scorned,” Public Defender Joshua Brockington said during his opening statement for his client.
He said Jones had been in a 20-year relationship with a woman named “Mrs. Smith,” and the couple had several rocky moments throughout their years together. Brockington said that in October 2013, Jones was about to break off the relationship. He said that made Mrs. Smith angry, spiteful and vengeful. He added that she retaliated in many ways, including placing Jones at the scene of the crime.
He said the state would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his client was indeed guilty of the charges against him, and he thought the state would fail to do so.
“If at the conclusion of the trial your minds are unsettled, wavering or unsatisfied, then that is doubt of the law and you must acquit Mr. Jones,” Brockington said. “… Ladies and gentlemen, it was not until late in 2013 after seeing Mr. Jones with another woman that Smith fabricated her story to law enforcement, which led to Mr. Jones’ arrest to these crimes.”
Throughout Tuesday’s proceedings Jones sat or, on occasion, stood next to Brockington. Nicely dressed in a long-sleeved white shirt and tie and khaki pants, the defendant occasionally took off his glasses to rub his eyes or listen intently to testimony being presented.
The jury heard a recording of a 911 call from a woman who lived at South Haven Mobile Home Park, next to the apartment where the commotion had taken place.
Lt. William Oberlander and Hinesville police Detective Joshua Heath, both of whom were with the Hinesville Police Department’s Crime Suppression Unit at the time of the slaying, each took the stand and spoke about his interaction with one of the women who was inside the home when the armed robbery and shooting took place.
The jurors were allowed to listen to the audio recording of the initial conversation this woman, Janet Quarterman, had with both officers while she sat in the patrol car and recounted the horror she just witnessed.
The emotional woman said the two men were wearing gray masks over their faces. One of the men was taller with a sharp-pointed nose. She described the other man as smaller than the first, of average height. Both men, she said, were dark skinned.
The woman went on to say she had a gut feeling that something wasn’t quite right that evening. Smalls arrived late to the poker party he had arranged and when he arrived, he appeared a bit disheveled, the woman said.
“Somebody knew who he was. … They know him,” Quarterman was recorded saying to the officers. “Why would they shoot him in the back of his head if he was not moving? … They know him. This was personal.”
Officer Tony Durham testified that his police dog managed to track the scent of a possible subject to the front door of one of the mobile homes.
He said the dog gave the proper alert, indicating the scent was strong. But the officer said no one ever came to the front door, and the lights were off so they assumed no one was home. He said there were cars in the driveway. He said he was released by his superiors after completing his duties and went home for the night.
After a lunch break, District Attorney Tom Durden went to call on witnesses who had been legally served subpoenas to testify on behalf of the state.
Durden called Daryl Mackenzie, known to his friends as “Boone”; Anthony Evans, known as “Capone”; and Mario Lumpkin. The men were at the Justice Center, but they refused to take the stand to testify. At least two of the men were among those who were at the poker game the night of the incident, according to Quarterman’s statement to police.
The state then called HPD Detective Lt. Suzie Jackson. Over the course of two hours, she showed the courtroom and jury all the evidence she photographed, cataloged, bagged and placed into the evidence room at HPD. The FBI also had tested some evidence.
Among the items she presented to the jury were the many bullet casings she had collected from the scene; clothing that had tears, bullet holes and blood; and a Tec-9 pistol that was recovered from the kitchen sink of the crime scene.
The trial is expected to last the remainder of the week.