Judge rejects death penalty challenge in 4 Nebraska killings

Apr 4, 2023, 11:57 AM

FILE - Police tape hangs on a tree outside the home of 53-year-old Michele Ebeling, Aug. 5, 2022, i...

FILE - Police tape hangs on a tree outside the home of 53-year-old Michele Ebeling, Aug. 5, 2022, in Laurel, Neb. Ebeling was among four people found dead the day before in two burning homes in this small community in northeastern Nebraska, authorities said. On Thursday, March 30, 2023, a Nebraska judge rejected a challenge to the death penalty in the case of a man charged in the killings of four people last summer in the small town of Laurel in the northeastern corner of the state. (AP Photo/Margery A. Beck, File)

(AP Photo/Margery A. Beck, File)

A Nebraska judge has rejected a challenge to the death penalty in the case of a man charged in the killings of four people last summer in a small town in the northeastern corner of the state.

Judge Bryan Meismer said in a ruling late last week that the lawyers representing Jason Jones, 42, didn’t prove that Nebraska’s death penalty law is unconstitutional, and it’s too soon to determine if that penalty is appropriate in this case because it is still early in the process. Jones has yet to officially enter a plea in the case.

Prosecutors said in January that they intend to seek the death penalty in this case because the killings were done at the same time other felonies were committed and at least two of the killings were carried out to conceal the other two. Plus, prosecutors said Jones set fire to the victims’ homes in an effort to help conceal his identity.

Jones is charged with arson, weapons counts and four counts of first-degree murder in the August killings of Gene Twiford, 86, and his wife, Janet Twiford, 85; their daughter, Dana Twiford, 55; and Michele Ebeling, 53.

Jones was arrested after officers found him with severe burns hiding in his wife’s house, which sits across the street from Ebeling’s home in Laurel. He was hospitalized for two months before being released and moved to a prison in Lincoln.

Jones is being held without bond. He is now scheduled to appear in court May 22. His lawyer declined to comment on the case Tuesday.

Jones’ wife, 43-year-old Carrie Jones, has also been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Gene Twiford as well as tampering with evidence and being an accessory for reportedly hiding her husband as authorities searched for him. Prosecutors said she told investigators that she wanted her husband to kill Twiford because she says he had been verbally harassing her with sexual comments and other remarks for a couple years. Prosecutors said at a February hearing that Carrie Jones either encouraged the killing or participated in it herself.

Carrie Jones has also not yet entered a plea to the charges against her because she is in the process of challenging them. She is being held on $1 million bail. Her attorney didn’t immediately respond Tuesday to a message about the case.

Laurel is a community of less than 1,000 people, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) northwest of Omaha.

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Judge rejects death penalty challenge in 4 Nebraska killings