Trial starts today for Henry Lee Jones in 2003 Bartlett killings
Florida man accused in stabbing deaths of couple in their home
It’s been nearly six years since Clarence and Lillian James were found brutally stabbed to death in their Bartlett home, but a Florida man charged in the capital case is finally scheduled for trial today.
Henry Lee Jones of Fort Lauderdale was arrested less than a month later, but court delays and extended legal wrangling have caused the case to be set and reset numerous times.
Jones, 45, has a long criminal history and is the prime suspect in two Florida murders with characteristics similar to the Bartlett case where the killer bound his victims, strangled them, slashed their throats and then removed the bindings and cleaned the crime scene.
The defense contends Jones committed none of the crimes.
Criminal Court Judge John Colton Jr. has ruled that details tying Jones to one of the Florida murders four days later might be admissible in this week’s trial to establish the identity of the killer of the Jameses.
The other case — the murder of Keith Gross, 24, on Sept. 9, 2002, in Fort Lauderdale — was too remote in time to have relevance to the James case, the judge said.
Prosecutors have called all of the slayings “signature crimes.”
Clarence James, 82, and his wife, Lillian, 67, were robbed and stabbed to death on Aug. 22, 2003, in their home in the 2400 block of Bartlett Boulevard. Their bodies were discovered the next day.
Clarence James was a retired Memphis city employee who had lived in the home in the Country Club Estate subdivision for about a decade.
Residents say he often worked in his yard, sat in his carport to chat with friends and wave to passersby.
Lillian James, who had been a Methodist Healthcare employee, moved into the home when the two were married about four years earlier.
Jones allegedly was visiting relatives in Shelby County at the time of their murders.
A key witness in the case is expected to be Tavarus Young, 26, a co-defendant facing lesser charges who has testified against Jones in previous hearings.
It was just days earlier in Florida when he met Jones, who has a teardrop tattooed beneath his left eye and goes by the nickname “Bam.”
The trial is expected to last two weeks or more and a life-or-death punishment phase would be held immediately afterward if Jones is convicted as charged.
The case is expected to involve witnesses from nine law enforcement agencies in four states.
Veteran state prosecutors handling the case are Thomas Henderson and John Campbell.
Jones is represented by court-appointed attorneys Robert Parris and Jacob ‘Jake’ Erwin.
The law calls for two defense attorneys in capital cases.
Henry Lee Jones timeline:
Aug. 23, 2003; The bodies of Clarence and Lillian James are found stabbed to death in separate rooms in their home in the 2400 block of Bartlett Boulevard.
Aug. 25, 2003: Co-defendant Tavarus Young is stopped for traffic violations in Melbourne, Fla., while driving a white 1987 Dodge and is arrested on an outstanding warrant for a probation violation. Jones, who pulls up in a white 1993 Lincoln Town Car, informs officers the Dodge belongs to him.
Aug. 27, 2003: Carlos Perez, 19, is found murdered in a motel room in Melbourne, Fla. Circumstances of his death — bindings, strangulation, knife wounds to the throat, a crime-scene cleanup — are similar to those at the James’ murder scene. Jones becomes a suspect in that murder when police in Melbourne learn that a credit card belonging to James had been used in the area.
Sept. 17, 2003: Jones is arrested in Fort Lauderdale on a warrant charging him with the murders of Clarence and Lillian James.
Today: Jones’ capital murder trial is scheduled to begin in Shelby County Criminal Court.
— Lawrence Buser: 529-2385