Monday, November 10, 2008

An Unnecessary Death


A vibrant, well-loved, hard-working woman goes missing. An ex-con who should have been behind bars is arrested for her abduction and murder. It happens every day. In this case, a convicted killer was released after serving only six years in prison. It was just a matter of time before he killed again.

When Lori McRae walked out of a Jacksonville, Florida Walgreens pharmacy at around 1:00 a.m., on January 31, 1995, she didn’t know that a chance encounter would leave her dead. A postal employee, her shift ended at midnight. McRae was well-liked, dependable, and happily married.

Ex-con David Wyatt Jones had been smoking crack every day for months. He had little interest in anything except the next high. Unlike McRae, he didn’t work. He was a committed burglar, but would shoplift, steal, or even panhandle if necessary.

After work, McRae called her husband and told him she planned to pick up a few items at on her way home. Her first stop was Walgreens.

An employee later testified that David Wyatt Jones came into the store at about the same time as McRae. He was in “total contrast” to her — she wore black jeans, a white blouse, and a forest-green jacket. She was neat and clean with immaculate fingernails.

Jones, on the other hand, had “his shirt opened...and his body [was] full of tattoos.” He had a distinct spider web tattoo on his right elbow. He was dirty and smelled bad.

He followed McRae out of the store. In Jones’ confession, he said, “I saw her in the parking lot and I walked up to her and choked her and threw her in the back seat.” He drove her to a remote area near the town of Callahan fifty miles away. According to the Medical Examiner’s report, McRae was found with her jeans pulled down to her ankles and her shirt pulled up above her breasts. “Ligature strangulation” was ruled as the cause of death.

There was no doubt about Jones’ guilt. He was arrested driving McRae’s Chevy Blazer. Using her stolen ATM card, he’d withdrawn six hundred dollars from her bank account. Bank cameras caught Jones completing the transactions. He knew her PIN number even though she’d memorized it and had never written it down. DNA showed his blood on her clothes and her blood on his clothes. He confessed to the crime and took police to the location of the body.

In 1997, Jones was tried and convicted of the first degree murder, kidnapping, and robbery of Lori McRae.

During the sentencing phase of his trial, prosecutors presented evidence that David Wyatt Jones had previously been convicted of second-degree murder. In 1986, while serving time for burglary, Jones escaped from the Duval County Jail and murdered Jasper Highsmith. The escapee was arrested while driving with his victim’s body in the trunk of a stolen car. Jones was sentenced to 20 years in prison but released after serving only six. (While researching this case, I was unable to determine why a career criminal, prison escapee, and convicted murderer was released before serving his full sentence. One blogger stated that it was because of prison overcrowding and that may have been the reason. One thing is certain: had he served his full term he would never have had the opportunity to murder Lori McRae.)

This time Jones was sentenced to death.

Florida governor Charlie Crist has signed several death warrants. He has stated that he wants to execute “the worst of the worst” first.

David Wyatt Jones certainly qualifies.

1 comment:

Cal Hackett said...

His original crime , the first murder , waranted a much harsher sentence than the 20 years for 2nd degree murder. The question of how he got by with such a light sentence for that crime has never been resolved to my satisfaction. Why was he not convicted of 1st degree murder and executed for that crime. A weak old man from what I have been able to find out. They caught him with the body. what more did they need. Then the early release on top of that ! Lori should be alive today and I feel the federal judges who ordered prisoners released and state officials who failed to obtain an appropriate conviction and sentence on their first shot at him ,sentence him properly and insure he not ever be released , are nearly as responsible for her death as D. Jones.
Add to that the many different things that could have been done to safeguard her in the shopping center and the Walgrens that were not done and you have a true travesty. Leading to a totally needless death and for 4 young children , 3 of them mine ,the loss of their mother.
Any attention to this case is appreciated though your version is over simplified and includes details that could be omitted without making the story any less shocking.

Cal Hackett Sr.