Death penalty considered in Franklin County nursing student slaying

Death penalty considered in Franklin County nursing student slaying

November 20th, 2012 by Ben Benton in News

Erika Megan Sharpton, 24, of Tullahoma, Tenn., was killed around July 2 and her body was found burning off of Awalt Road by a paassing motorist in Franklin County, Tenn.

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

Donnie Frank Jones Jr.

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

The man charged in the July 2 rape and slaying of Tullahoma, Tenn., nursing student Megan Sharpton pleaded not guilty Friday in Franklin County Circuit Court.

A decision will be made over the next couple of weeks whether to file a notice that prosecutors will seek the death penalty or life without parole for 37-year-old Tullahoma resident Donnie Frank Jones Jr., 12th Judicial District Attorney Mike Taylor said Monday.

Jones, of 1912 Bel-Aire Drive, was charged in Sharpton's death with first-degree murder, especially aggravated kidnapping and aggravated rape on an indictment issued by the Franklin County grand jury on Nov. 5.

Taylor said he and Assistant District Attorney Steve Blount, the Franklin County prosecutor overseeing the case, will review the elements of the case to see whether they meet requirements for pursuing the death penalty.

Jones remains held without bond in Franklin County.

On Friday, Circuit Court Judge Buddy Perry appointed Winchester, Tenn., attorney Joseph Ford to represent Jones, according to officials.

Ford was unavailable Monday for comment.

The 24-year-old Sharpton's body was still burning when a passing motorist spotted what was thought to be a grass fire on Awalt Road near the bridge over Tims Ford Lake on July 2. Her 1995 Ford Mustang was found on Three Forks Bridge Road in Bedford County, 15 to 20 miles away, the same day.

As the investigation continued, Jones was arrested on an unrelated charge of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm when his home was searched on Sept. 27 as part of the homicide investigation.

Officers found a rifle and several other items they did not describe that were sent to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's crime lab for analysis. The gun charge was filed in Coffee County in the 14th Judicial District. The homicide investigation is centered in Franklin County, where Sharpton's body was found, which is in the 12th Judicial District.

Franklin County Court officials said 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.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Subscribe to his Facebook posts at facebook.com/ben.benton1 and follow him at twitter.com/BenBenton on Twitter.