Richmond County Cpl. Mitchell Freeman was on his way to work May 21, 2013, when a long-time friend called him in a panic.
Steven Jones, of Macon, hadn’t been able to reach his parents, Roosevelt and Edna Jones, or brother, Russell Jones, in about a day.
After a disturbing exchange with his other brother, Ryan, Steven Jones had a gut feeling something was wrong.
When Freeman arrived at the home on Pinnacle Place Drive for a welfare check, he saw three cars parked in the yard but got no answer at the door.
He called a captain in the criminal investigation division, waited for backup, and with permission of Steven Jones via telephone, kicked open the back door.
What he saw next prompted law enforcement to begin an investigation that linked the three missing Joneses to the charred and dismembered remains of three people found earlier that afternoon in a nearby field.
“I saw a lot of blood,” Freeman recalled in court Thursday.
After Freeman’s discovery, officers obtained warrants to search the Pinnacle Place Drive home and its three vehicles that day. But attorneys representing Ryan Jones, charged with killing his mother, father and brother, said officers performed an illegal search by not obtaining a warrant to kick down the door.
Because of that “illegal search,” all evidence collected in the days that followed should be suppressed at Ryan Jones’ impending death penalty trial, lead defense attorney Ryan Swingle said at Thursday’s motion-to-suppress hearing.
“This is a horrible, horrible, tragic case,” Swingle said. “When the state is asking to execute someone, thank God we live in a country that closely examines the investigation that went into the case.”
Roosevelt and Edna Jones were both retired Richmond County educators who were 40-year members of Augusta Deliverance Evangelistic Church. Russell Jones was a sophomore at Fort Valley State University majoring in health and physical education and was visiting his parents at the time of his death.
District Attorney Ashley Wright said officers had probable cause to kick the door in because multiple family members were on their way to Augusta “out of grave concern” for Roosevelt, Edna and Russell; that Steven Jones told police Ryan Jones was acting strangely; and that Steven Jones gave permission to kick in the door.
“They are not required to sit on their heels,” Wright said.
In the five-hour hearing, the court heard testimony from seven officers about their methods in obtaining warrants to search the Pinnacle Place Drive home, the vehicles, and a Days Inn hotel room where Ryan Jones had previously stayed.
They also described the arrest of Ryan Jones, which took place at Traditions Apartments on Walton Way Extension.
While en route to the sheriff’s office for questioning, deputy Matthew Kirkland testified Ryan Jones had stated he was concerned about clothes he left at the Days Inn in Augusta and asked if he could retrieve them.
That unsolicited comment prompted officers to obtain a search warrant for the Days Inn, where they recovered a cell phone, charger and two towels.
Swingle said the initial “illegal search” of the Pinnacle Place Drive home by kicking in the door tainted all search warrants that followed and that all statements made by Ryan Jones after his arrest, like his inquiry about his belongings at the hotel, should also be suppressed.
Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet asked the state and the defense to file proposed orders within 30 days for him to consider.