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Jones again convicted; shows no emotion as widow addresses court


Henry Lee Jones Jr. will spend the rest of his life in prison with no chance of parole for the 2011 murder of Central Beach resident Brian Simpson.

An Indian River County jury last Thursday found Jones guilty of two first-degree felony charges – First Degree Felony Murder and Armed Robbery and Assault and Battery. The jury determined that there was not enough evidence to convict Jones of a third charge – the actual shooting of Simpson.

Shortly after the jury announced its verdict, Circuit Court Judge Daniel Vaughn sentenced Jones to two consecutive life sentences with no chance of parole.

Prior to sentencing, Vaughn allowed Simpson’s widow, Kristen, to address Jones in court. What followed was an emotional 22-minute speech by Simpson, who unleashed eight years of anger, pain and frustration on her husband’s killer.

“You’re the kind of person who would kill another human being – a cold, heartless coward who would shoot somebody from behind a door,” said Simpson as she glared at Jones sitting less than 10 feet away.

Jones did not look directly at Simpson while she spoke. He showed no signs of emotion until Vaughn pronounced the two life sentences.  That’s when Jones suddenly lowered his head, his body shaking involuntarily.

When Vaughn asked Jones if he wanted to say anything, Jones barely raised his head, and in a near whisper said, “No Sir.”

Jones, 30, was initially found guilty of first-degree murder for the same crime in 2014 and received a life sentence at that time. But the fourth District Court of Appeals in 2017 ruled a new trial was warranted because Jones’ public defender had not been allowed to question potential jurors about racial prejudice or bias. Jones is African-American, Simpson, who was 41 at the time of his death, was white.

According to testimony at both trials, Jones shot Simpson after he and a young accomplice, Darius Robinson, got caught inside the Simpson family’s Fiddlewood Road home.

Robinson testified at both trials that it was Jones who shot Simpson. But despite shoe and handprints found in the bathroom indicating Jones was the shooter, the new jury determined there wasn’t enough evidence to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Jones fired the fatal shots.

The jury deliberated nearly six hours before coming to a decision.

Assistant State Attorney Steve Gosnell shrugged his shoulders when asked about the verdict.

“Apparently, the jury didn’t feel that there was sufficient evidence to prove he shot Mr. Simpson,” Gosnell said. “But we don’t care. They found him guilty of the other two charges and he will spend the rest of his life in prison.”

The two-week trial was filled with witness and expert testimony that indicated Jones was involved in the burglary and murder.

But Assistant Public Defender Dorothy Naumann frequently reminded the jury that most of the evidence, while looking bad for her client, was still circumstantial.

She also tried to discredit police investigators and forensic experts by claiming they were biased against her client or sloppy during their investigation, although she did not back up those accusations with evidence.

A last-minute decision to allow Jones to testify near the end of the trial seemed to backfire.

Jones, who denied ever being at the Simpson residence, also claimed he had never burglarized a home. But when questioned by Chief Assistant State Attorney Thomas Bakkendahl, Jones struggled to explain why items stolen from several homes, including Simpson’s, were found in his bedroom and in the glovebox of his motorcycle.

The most damning evidence was the GPS data extracted from Jones’ cellphone that placed him near the Simpson home at the time and night of the murder. Jones weakly dismissed the phone data by claiming “there are a lot of discrepancies and lies about it,” although he refused to elaborate.

His troubles were further exacerbated by the final-day testimony of two witnesses who claimed Robinson, who was 16 when the murder occurred, had confessed to them that Jones was innocent while they and Robinson were in jail together seven years ago.

The testimony of the two witnesses, one of whom is Jones’ cousin, Tyrez Brown, kept changing under questioning.  Their stories frequently contradicted each other’s and even placed Jones at the scene of the murder.

Brown also confessed that Jones illegally sent a letter instructing him to get Robinson to retract his statements and say police forced him to implicate Jones in the murder.

Robinson received a 10-year prison sentence for his role in the crime.

Following the trial, Kristen Simpson said her family was pleased with the sentencing, but noted no prison sentence will bring back her husband.

“We will rest knowing he (Jones) will never do this to another family and will spend the rest of his life in jail,” she said. “But time will never erase my husband’s murder.

“Henry Jones killed the love of my life and emotionally slaughtered my family forever.”