Judgment Day

Last Friday was high noon for two-thirds of the murderous Jones family in a Santa Barbara courtroom as Judge Frank Ochoa handed down sentences to Philip Jones, 51, and his daughter Kelee Davidson, 27, for their roles in the execution-style murder of Kelee’s ex-husband and UCSB grad student Jarrod Davidson. After more than four hours of gut-wrenching impact statements from Jarrod’s family and a highly controversial unsubstantiated explanation of motive from confessed gunman Philip, final sentences closed the book on what Senior Deputy District Attorney Darryl Perlin characterized as an “emotional experience like I’ve never seen in this town.” Terminally ill with lung cancer, Philip Jones was sentenced to life without parole while Kelee was slapped with a four-year sentence — with time served — for accessory to murder after-the-fact and two counts of perjury. The third defendant in the case — Malinda Jones — backed out of a plea bargain deal late last year and is set to stand trial for murder and conspiracy in March.

Friday’s session began with prosecutors moving to strike and seal an inflammatory statement of mitigation by shooter Philip Jones, accusing the murder victim of child molestation. Ruling in favor of the District Attorney, Ochoa rebuked public defender James Egar, calling Jones’s effort to trash the victim counterproductive. Next came nearly two hours of emotional statements by Jarrod’s immediate and extended family, beginning with his mother, Susan, who said: “I will always live with the knowledge that my son’s last words were ‘Help, help. They’ve killed me.’ I am stuck in a living hell.” Jarrod’s older brother, Michael, added, “This cold-blooded murder has absolutely destroyed our family.”

Dressed in his son’s hockey jersey and flanked by photos of Jarrod with granddaughter Malia, Richard Davidson concluded, “I have cried openly and secretly more in the last year and seven months than I have in my entire life. The death of a child is a parent’s greatest nightmare.” Davidson also urged the court to decline Kelee her parental rights to Malia in the future, saying he believed she was “personally responsible” for Jarrod’s July 2004 murder, which came just days before a San Luis Obispo family law judge was slated to rule on Kelee’s ongoing illegal refusal to allow Jarrod visitation rights with their daughter Malia. It has been widely speculated by those close to the case that Jarrod would have been awarded custody of his daughter.

Seen more than once laughing and smiling during the proceedings, Kelee — recently engaged — remained stoic during her sentencing. Afterward, in a statement read by her attorney Joe Allen, the former daughter-in-law offered her “deep regrets” to the Davidson family. In stark contrast, Philip Jones, seated in a wheelchair and breathing through oxygen tubes, recited a partial statement of mitigating circumstances that rocked the courtroom and delivered a final insult to the Davidson family. Speaking in a slow, weak voice, their son’s killer read, “I am very sorry to the Davidson family for the pain my actions have caused … but Mindy and I did not take the life of Jarrod Davidson for any other reason than the safety of our grandchild.” Then, after alluding to his own sexual abuse by his grandfather at a young age, Philip continued, “When Malia told us how her Daddy molested her …” Judge Ochoa interrupted the Jones patriarch mid-sentence, offering sternly: “This is nonproductive, Mr. Jones, and inappropriate. I made my position on this clear long ago.” A visibly upset Richard Davidson addressed the media after court, responding to the “outrageous conduct of the defendants and their attorneys.” He explained that during the 2004 custody dispute between Jarrod and Kelee, “the Joneses and their daughter concocted a series of false charges against my son, claiming he had abused and molested his young daughter. None of these accusations was true. They were thoroughly investigated and found to be without merit.” In fact, according to the Sheriff’s Department, the allegations were tossed after a few short days of investigation.

Also outraged by Philip Jones’s remarks was prosecutor Perlin. In a statement given several days later, Perlin said, “The attempt to paint Jarrod Davidson as some kind of terrible person was inexcusable.” As for the final chapter of an overly long and ugly family circus, Malinda “Mindy” Jones was scheduled to arrive in court this week to begin pretrial motions in her own private murder trial.

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