A jury will decide the fate of a Florida man who beat his wife to death with a baseball bat in 2019 before he murdered her four small children over several days and stored their bodies in tote bags.
Michael Wayne Jones, 41, has already pleaded guilty to the shocking slayings, and the panel will now decide if he gets life in prison or the death sentence at his ongoing penalty phase trial.
Defense attorney point to Jones’ deeply dysfunctional upbringing as grounds for the lesser punishment, while prosecutors are pushing for his execution.
Jones told arresting officers that the horrific killing spree kicked off in July 2019 after his wife, Casei Jones, accused him of infidelity after looking through his phone.
He recounted to police that she poked him with a baseball bat during an escalating argument in their Marion County home, and that he beat her to death with it in a rage.
The four kids — two of whom he fathered — were asleep at the time.
Jones wrapped his wife’s body in blankets, placed it in a large tote bag and put in a closet.
Scheming to make it appear that she was still alive, he used her cell phone to post items to her social media accounts, according to the Ocala Star Banner.
The following day, Jones took his two stepchildren, Preston Bowers, 4, and Cameron Bowers, 8, to stay with their father as he frantically devised a plan to cover up his wife’s murder.
He then dropped off the two girls he shared with his wife, Mercalli Jones, 2, and Aiyana Jones, 11 months, with his spouse’s mother.
But with the school year fast approaching, Jones grew concerned that the boys’ absence would spark questions from staffers at Fruitland Park Elementary.
A week before they were due in class, Jones, dragged Cameron out of his bed and fatally strangled him on the floor, he told detectives. He then put the child’s body in a suitcase.
The next day, Jones said, he choked Preston with a zip tie before drowning him in a bathtub and then putting his corpse into a suitcase.
Several days later, Jones told detectives, he drove with his two young daughters and parked outside a police station, planning to turn himself in.
But he eventually backed out of the plan, instead opting to drown both tots in a bathtub and putting both of their bodies into a single tote bag.
Shaken investigators asked Jones why he killed the children.
“I don’t know, just everything mounted up and it seemed like the way out,” according to Martin County Sheriff’s Office documents.
Jones was ultimately arrested on September 15, 2019 after he was involved in a single-car accident and a deputy responded to the scene.
The officer immediately detected the overwhelming stench of a decomposing body and Jones told him to get some handcuffs readied.
Investigators found his wife’s body inside a tote bag in his minivan. Jones then led detectives to the bodies of the children, who he had dumped in a remote wooded area.
His defense attorneys argue that his traumatic upbringing — including molestation at the hands of his father and abuse from a violent stepfather — damaged his mental health from an early age. Those factors, they argue, call for life in prison rather than death.
They assert that Jones — who also has three kids from a prior marriage — entered a psychotic spiral that culminated in the murders.
But prosecutors reject those defenses, arguing that the heinous killings warranted his execution.
A sister of Casei Jones’ testified at the trial last week, tearfully telling the court that her nephew Cameron was a “sweet, loving little guy,” according to the outlet. She also described their two sisters as “princesses.”
The case continues this week.