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Wednesday, July 27, 2016


Once targeted for death penalty, N.J. man to return to prison for killing again
By Bill Wichert | NJ Advance Media for
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on April 09, 2015 at 3:45 PM, updated April 09, 2015 at 4:43 PM


George Jones

NEWARK — After George Jones fatally shot a man in 1994, prosecutors initially sought the death penalty for him, but a judge ultimately sentenced him in 1997 to 30 years in state prison.

But a few years after being released on parole, Jones is now slated to return to prison for killing again.

Jones, 42, of Newark, pleaded guilty on March 31 to a reckless manslaughter charge in connection with the July 27, 2013 fatal shooting of Michael Belle on Elizabeth Avenue in Newark.

Jones shot Belle after the two men got into an altercation, said Katherine Carter, spokeswoman for the Essex County Prosecutor's Office. Jones has said he shot Belle in self-defense, Carter said.

Under a plea deal, prosecutors are recommending that Jones receive a 10-year prison sentence, Carter said. Jones would have to serve eight and a half years before becoming eligible for parole. His sentencing is scheduled for May 5 before Superior Court Judge Ronald Wigler.

Jones was released from state prison on April 21, 2009 and then remained under parole supervision until April 9, 2012, according to Matthew Schuman, spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Corrections.

In the 1994 killing, Jones, then 21 years old, gunned down 39-year-old John Hargrove during an April 5, 1994 robbery as Hargrove was walking home from a check-cashing store on Elizabeth Avenue in Newark's Weequahic section.

Hargrove had just cashed a $140 welfare check when he was confronted by Jones and at least one accomplice as he walked below the Interstate 78 overpass, authorities previously said.

While the case was still pending, the prosecutor's office declared its intention to seek the death penalty for Jones. The death penalty in New Jersey was later abolished in 2007.

Jones' case ultimately led to questions about his mental retardation and his competency to stand trial, according to previous Star-Ledger stories. His attorneys had said he suffered from severe lead poisoning as a child.

After prosecutors sought the death penalty for Jones, Superior Court Judge Joseph A. Falcone found him incompetent to stand trial in early 1995, the news reports said. The judge ordered him to be evaluated to see whether he could be made competent.

In April 1996, a court-appointed psychiatrist determined that Jones was incompetent, but Judge Donald Coburn, who succeeded Falcone in the case, rejected that opinion and ordered a further evaluation of Jones. That evaluation found him competent to stand trial.

Jones ultimately pleaded guilty on Jan. 22, 1997 to an aggravated manslaughter charge. On March 7, Judge Alvin Weiss sentenced him to 30 years in prison and ordered that he serve 15 years before becoming eligible for parole.

The judge rejected a request by Jones' attorneys for a lighter sentence and indicated that state law did not allow him the flexibility to take into account Jones' intellectual deficiency as long as he was competent to be tried.

"I recognize that the defendant might not have the mental capacity that other people have and this may be the result of circumstances beyond his control," said Weiss, according to a Star-Ledger story on the sentencing. "However, the crime itself was brutal and horrible."

Essex County Assistant Prosecutor Steven Farman told the judge at the hearing that the differing opinions of psychiatrists have left the extent of Jones' retardation in question, according to the news report.

"I think it's fair to say that we don't know what his mental status is," Farman said.

Bill Wichert may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @BillWichertNJ. Find on Facebook.

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