Charges against DA from video to be dismissed after mistrial

Posted at 11:46 AM, September 21, 2021 and last updated 10:59 PM, July 17, 2023

COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) — One set of criminal charges against a Georgia district attorney is being dismissed, although he still faces more serious charges.

A mistrial was declared last week in Mark Jones’ trial on charges of first-degree criminal damage to government property and interfering with government property after the judge found witnesses were improperly watching video of the trial before testifying.

Jones is district attorney for Muscogee, Harris, Chattahoochee, Marion, Talbot, and Taylor counties.

Mark Jones (Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office)

Prosecutor Brian Patterson told visiting Judge Jeffery Monroe on Monday he decided to dismiss the charges after hearing some jurors from the mistrial felt the case was politically motivated.

“I no longer believe it is in the interest of justice to move forward with this matter,” Patterson said, according to WRBL-TV.

One juror told the Ledger-Enquirer after the mistrial that it was a “waste of time” to pursue charges involving damage to a parking lot that was allegedly caused during the filming of a 2020 campaign video for Jones.

Jones was indicted again earlier this month on charges that he tried to get a police officer to lie to a grand jury to upgrade an involuntary manslaughter charge to murder, tried to bribe prosecutors in his office and tried to influence and prevent the testimony of a crime victim. Jones is also charged with DUI, reckless driving and causing injury following a November 2019 crash in which police said Jones was driving drunk.

The charges set to be dismissed relate to a May 2020 video for his election campaign that included stunt driving moves such as cars driving in doughnuts with smoking tires in the parking lot of the Columbus Civic Center. The indictment alleged Jones was responsible for damage to the parking lot.

Damage was initially valued at $300,000, the cost of repaving the entire parking lot. During the abortive trial, city officials placed the damages at closer to $2,500, the cost to re-stripe the area where the video was filmed.

Patterson said he still believes that “direct and circumstantial evidence” indicates Jones and codefendant Erik Whittington are guilty, but that juror sentiments weigh against further prosecution.

“They were concerned about how politics have come to bear on this case, that this is a felony prosecution, that it appears that some other individuals similarly situated have not been prosecuted in a similar manner for this kind of conduct, and that Muscogee County has other pressing criminal justice matters and concerns,” Patterson told the court during the online hearing.

Mark Shelnutt, a lawyer representing Whittington, said a new trial would have still had the same issues because witness testimony was corrupted.

Three other defendants — Christopher Black, Chris Garner and Jonathan Justo-Botello — pleaded guilty earlier to misdemeanor charges of criminal trespass and laying drag, a Georgia crime that covers a range of driving offenses.

William Kendrick, a lawyer representing Whittington, said the convictions against the other three men should be overturned.

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