Megan Sharpton's accused killer, Donnie Jones Jr., 37, faced first-degree murder, kidnapping and rape charges and pleaded guilty on Feb. 4, 2013, in Franklin County Circuit Court. He was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison without any possibility of parole. Three weeks later, Jones sought to change his plea, citing inadequate legal counsel.
Mike Taylor, district attorney in the 12th Judicial District, said an appointed counsel for Jones has formalized his motion.
"We're waiting for him to get the expert mental evaluation done," Taylor said.
Maybe Kelly Sharpton couldn't bear the pain any longer.
In the months since her daughter Megan, 24, was raped and killed, her body set afire alongside Awalt Road in Franklin County, Tenn., the grief-stricken mother had struggled to cope.
At times during interviews with the Times Free Press, Kelly Sharpton was strong, other times wracked with pain.
"I wake up in the morning and I see my dead daughter's face," she said in the first weeks after Megan's July 2012 murder.
Kelly Sharpton became her daughter's champion for justice and held up her slaying as an example of violent crime that costs young women their lives. She was active in grief groups that put her in contact with grieving mothers like herself all over the world.
In the beginning, the quest for justice kept Kelly Sharpton going. But she seemed to know that putting her daughter's killer in jail wouldn't be enough.
In April, standing on the very spot where Megan's body was found, Kelly Sharpton spoke about her struggle to find justice and meaning in her daughter's death.
"Justice is kind of a funny word," Kelly Sharpton said. "Justice is a word for this world. It's not a word for families and victims. It's what society needs to do to close this and walk away."
On Friday, Kelly Elizabeth Hale Sharpton took her own life in a Chattanooga hotel. She was 47.
Sharpton, of Tullahoma, was pronounced dead at Erlanger hospital of an apparent suicide, though the case is still under investigation, according to Officer Tim McFarland of the Chattanooga Police Department.
The Sharpton family did not want to speak about the death on Tuesday, the day the family was receiving visitors as they prepared to lay Kelly Sharpton to rest. Kelly was the daughter of Maurice and Margaret Stepp Hale, of Tullahoma. She was a graphic designer at the U.S. Air Force's Arnold Engineering Development Complex.
Tullahoma Funeral Home's online guest book was flooded with condolences from friends, co-workers and other grieving mothers who knew now that another mother, Kelly's, was grieving, too. And for a second time.
"No family should have to endure so much pain."
"As a fellow grieving mother, I understand the pain she was in. Nobody should have to suffer the loss of a child. Now you have to suffer another loss."
Some commented on the "why" behind Kelly's death.
"It is apparent that she tried so hard to carry on after Megan's passing, but the pain was relentless. She has finally found the peace that was so allusive [sp] during the last sixteen months. All of us who followed Megan's story will continue to carry Kelly's message to young women everywhere."
Many are directed at Kelly.
"I have met many courageous people fighting for justice in the face of horrific tragedy. Kelly, you, by far, are at the top of that list. I will always hate your choice, but I will always love you and your fierce bravery."
"I live in South Africa and got to know Kelly on a fellow-grieving mothers' page. She loved her family dearly and supported many of us through our ups and downs as we did her. We will miss her dearly and feel for her family. Don't judge Kelly. Don't be angry. ... Fly free our angel mom."
Staff writer Tim Omarzu contributed to this story.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569.
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 ...
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