News 12 at 6 o'clock / Monday, Feb. 3, 2014
AIKEN, SC (WRDW) - Joshua Jones has pleaded guilty but mentally ill to murdering Aiken Public Safety Cpl. Sandy Rogers.
Jones has been sentenced to life in prison with no parole.
Authorities say Cpl. Rogers was shot while responding to a suspicious vehicle in 2012. They say Jones also shot and killed his girlfriend, Cayce Ray Vice, prior to killing Cpl. Rogers.
Monday morning he pleaded guilty to the murder charge, along with possession of a weapon during a violent crime, failure to stop for blue lights, unlawful carrying of a pistol, and petit larceny.
Dozens of officers, Public Safety Director Charles Barranco, Sheriff Michael Hunt, State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) Chief Mark Keel, and the family of Sandy Rogers were all in the courtroom for justice.
Because Jones was pleading guilty but mentally ill, Judge Jack Early began a competency hearing to see if Jones was fit to stand trial.
Esteemed psychiatrist Donna Schwartz Watts testified that Jones has a "significant mental history." She says his mother suffered physical abuse during pregnancy, he was inundated after birth, Jones was allegedly molested by his uncle, and Jones even shot himself in the head, in an apparent suicide attempt, six months before the crime. Watts says the self-inflicted shooting produced a brain bleed and fractured skull; the psychiatrist says the portion of Jones' brain responsible for emotions was injured.
Additionally, Watts says Jones suffered long-term deficits. She says he was admitted at Aurora Mental Health Pavilion where he talked about angels and demons. He also reported hearing three voices. The three voices encouraged him to commit violent acts.
Watts says Jones is schizophrenic and psychotic, however, she says he does not suffer from "mental retardation." Because of this, she says Jones was fit to stand trial.
A compilation of videos released to News 12 from Jones' legal counsel show some of Jones' time behind bars at Aiken County Detention Center. Besides the infamous bond hearing in which Jones growled and cussed at the judge, another video from another day shows Jones biting chunks from his wrists. A naked Jones lunges at a number of armored deputies as they try to administer first aid.
"His symptoms are dramatic," says Watts, who adds the onset of the symptoms was prior to his arrest for murdering Rogers.
Ultimately, Judge Early said there was enough evidence for Jones to plead guilty but mentally ill. Standing calmly before the judge in khaki slacks and a navy sweater, Jones was sentenced to a life in prison with no parole. Circuit Public Defender De Grant Gibbons says Jones will go to a high-security facility where he will receive medical treatment.
"He knew what he had done. He knew that, now, the crimes that he had committed were wrong, and that he had violated the law," says SLED Chief Keel.
News 12 asked 2nd Judicial Circuit Solicitor Strom Thurmond, Jr. why he didn't seek the death penalty for Jones.
"We are ethically prohibited from leveraging the death penalty in exchange for a guilty plea and did not do so in this case," Thurmond says. "We had valid concerns that if we noticed the death penalty that we would have difficulty ever trying Jones because competency issues can come up at any time, to include during trial. When accepting this plea, we chose an ironclad resolution over a legal and psychiatric quagmire, and Josh Jones will spend the rest of his life in a maximum security prison."
Jones still faces a murder charge in Richmond County.