A court-ordered mental evaluation will delay a prosecution decision on whether to seek the death penalty for Donnie Frank Jones Jr. in the July kidnapping, rape and slaying of Tullahoma, Tenn., nursing student Megan Sharpton.
Mike Taylor, 12th Judicial District attorney general, said his office still is mulling the filing of a notice that prosecutors will seek the death penalty.
Jones, 37, of 1912 Bel-Aire Drive in Tullahoma, is charged with first-degree murder, especially aggravated kidnapping and aggravated rape. He pleaded not guilty during a Franklin County Circuit Court hearing in November and remains in the Franklin County Jail without bond, officials said.
Jones' lawyer, Winchester, Tenn., defense attorney Joe Ford, was in court Thursday and could not be reached for comment.
The Circuit Court order for the evaluation states that Jones will be assessed for his "mental condition at the time of the crime" and to determine whether he was "able to appreciate the nature or wrongfulness" of the acts he's accused of committing.
The evaluation also will determine whether Jones is competent to stand trial or if there is need for him to be hospitalized for any mental conditions, according to court documents.
Taylor said no decision would be made until the evaluation is complete and he has met with the victim's family.
Sharpton's burning body was found by a passing motorist who thought he saw a grassfire on Awalt Road near the bridge over Tims Ford Lake on July 2. Her 1995 Ford Mustang was found the same day on Three Forks Bridge Road in Bedford County, about 15 to 20 miles away.
Megan Sharpton was acquainted with Jones' wife, with whom she had ridden "a time or two" to nursing classes, her mother, Kelly Sharpton, said after Jones' arrest in Coffee County on unrelated gun charges during the homicide investigation.
Jones' next court date is Jan. 15 for a discussion hearing without the judge, and another date is set before a judge on Jan. 24, Franklin County court officials said.
Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...