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New light shed on accused murderer's background

STORY BY LISA ZAHER (Week of September 4, 2014)

Since former PNC Bank financial advisor Michael Jones was arrested in June and charged with the murder of his on-again off-again girlfriend, 26-year-old Sebastian River Medical Center nurse and Moorings resident Diana Duve, the community, rocked by this tragedy, has been asking, “Who is Michael Jones?”

Among the evidence collected by Vero Beach Police detectives and investigators at the State Attorney’s office are more than 100 pages related to Jones’ education.

Perhaps the most lettered inmate ever housed at the Indian River County Jail, Jones earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Georgia before going on to complete his Juris Doctorate from St. Louis University and graduate in the top third of his class. Then he applied to the University of Miami’s college of law to get a specialized degree in estate planning.

It is from the application documents he sent to Miami that a horrified community gets a glimpse of the barely believable life the man accused of a horrific murder led up to 2010.

On paper, Jones appears to have been academically successful, a presidential scholar graduating cum laude from college and with a 3.88 grade point average from grad school. His honors and activities are robust, including teaching assistant and mentor roles in law school and fraternity president in college.

Even recently while living in Vero, Jones was active in helping organize University of Georgia alumni activities. He scored in the 49th percentile on the Law School Admission Test with a score of 151 – a number that won’t get an applicant into Harvard or even the University of Florida, but it’s about average.

Under work experience, the then-27-year-old lists five years of intern, law clerk and research analyst positions with various firms, a fellowship with the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, and even a period as a law clerk with the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Missouri.

All of that looks normal – remarkably normal. Then turn the page in the file to the personal essay Jones  sent to the folks in Miami. Students have been known to jazz up their admissions essays to get noticed, but this one reads like a Lifetime network motion picture. If even half of it is true, Jones should be using his time in jail to pen his memoirs.

“I am a young professional currently residing in the ‘Heartland’ of the United States,” Jones writes from St. Louis. “But what makes me unique is my life experiences.”

Jones describes being born into an impoverished, uneducated, conservative Christian family in the South – his birthplace on public records is Matthews, NC (population 27,000) – and suffering physical and mental abuse until he was removed from his parents and placed in foster care as a teenager. Then life turned around for Jones when he was adopted. That’s when his adventure, and a life of privilege began.

“My adopted family was upper-middle class Jewish, progressive, and resided on a small island in the Pacific Northwest off the coast of Seattle ... It was a culture shock. However, it was the culture shock that molded me and brought me a cornucopia of life experiences. From Seattle, I have lived in New York, California, Florida, Georgia and Missouri, and my family has now made Atlanta our permanent home.”

But wait, there’s a major, jolting twist in the plot. A twist that would add that essential element of the perfect admissions essay – the triumph over adversity.

“When I was 18 years old, I suffered a disastrous injury resulting in a broken femur, leg, arm and back, thereby rendering me unable to walk and left in a wheelchair,” Jones wrote. “I had months of uncertain recovery, but I was persistent and worked hard. I am extremely proud to admit that I not only am walking but am excelling and enjoying life.”

The next part of Michael Jones’ narrative sounds a bit like Indiana Jones.

“I am able to enjoy physical activity, travelling and have even recently returned from spelunking through intense caverns and zip-lining throughout the snowy mountains in British Columbia.” The essay continues. “I have traveled to all 50 states, as well as been to every continent except Antarctica. I have spent a summer in Australia and New Zealand; another summer in Costa Rica, which allowed me to venture throughout areas of Central and South America; and two summers traveling throughout Europe. I have also taken a trip to South Korea with a dear friend, gone on an expedition to Kenya and Tanzania with my family and visited the ruins in Egypt.”

Jones concludes this whirlwind tale with his sales pitch:  Don’t you want me to add to the rich tapestry of your campus community?

“Having lived in multiple regions of the United States, traveled all over the world, been adopted into a loving family, recovered from a devastating injury leaving me in a wheelchair for months, and continued to combat dyslexia on a daily basis, I know that I would bring a tremendous amount of life experiences to the University of Miami School of Law,” Jones wrote.

He states that his goal is to become an estate planning and taxation lawyer.

“I have no doubt that I am a well-qualified candidate for the LLM in Estate Planning program and am extremely desirous of achieving admission into this prestigious program,” Jones said.

He got in and began his studies in the fall of 2010, but within weeks of the start of fall classes, Jones’ life apparently began to spiral downward.