Jones, 20, of Longview, looked down as three relatives of victim Ronnie Joe Gammage Jr. emotionally condemned him in victim impact statements after 115th District Judge Lauren Parish sentenced him on a plea bargain before a standing-room-only audience estimated at nearly 100 persons, including relatives of the defendant.
The co-defendants, Sarah Haslam, 20, of Longview and Andrew Conrad Norwine, 21, of Arlington, remain jailed under $1.3 million bond each on capital murder and aggravated kidnapping charges in connection with the Dec. 5, 2012 slaying of Gammage, who was abducted, purportedly in Gregg County, before his throat was cut and his dead body was set afire, Byrd said.
He said no trial date for the jailed pair has been set, nor has he decided whether to seek the death penalty for them.
Jones and the other suspects were arrested in December after the body of Gammage, 27, of Longview, were found in a pasture in Martin Road in the Diana Community of Upshur County on Dec. 19, Byrd said.
In pleading guilty, Jones, the adopted son of a Baptist pastor, avoided the possibility of the death penalty by lethal injection. Under Texas law, life imprisonment without parole is the only other sentence for capital murder, and Jones waived his right to appeal.
Byrd said Thursday he had explained the two potential sentences to the victim’s family, which preferred the life sentence if Jones would plead guilty.
The defendant, the adopted son of Pastor Richard Jones of Calvary Baptist Church in Longview, had been a straight-A student at Christian Heritage School in that city with no disciplinary problems, and “had everything before him,” the district attorney told The Mirror on Thursday.
Before the victim’s mother, Frankie Gammage, addressed Jones, Ronnie Joe Gammage Jr.’s brother, Charles Ramsey, and sister, Angela Dees, denounced the bespectacled, long-haired defendant sitting quietly several feet away, handcuffed and shackled in an orange jail-issue jumpsuit. As Jones sat at the defense table with his attorneys, Longview lawyers Jason Cassel and Kevin Settle, a large color photo of the victim wearing a cowboy hat was displayed on an easel in the courtroom.
Said Ramsey, so emotional that he had difficulty starting his statement from a podium, “I’m going to forgive you, but I’m not going to forgive what you did.”
Earlier, he told Jones he had killed a “good young man” who visited his mother daily despite having several disabilities, and that Jones had not only hurt the victim’s family, but “look what you’ve done to your family,” who “will live with this every day.”
Ronnie Gammage (known as R.J.) “made a difference in people’s lives” and wherever he went, “had friends when he left,” Ramsey said. The victim enjoyed bonfires and telling jokes, he recalled.
“You’ve hurt this family more than you can imagine, not to mention all of his friends,” Ramsey told Jones. “I can only imagine what you could have become if you had followed in your father’s footsteps. . . I wouldn’t be standing up here today crying.”
As he neared ending his statement, Ramsey pounded the podium as he said, “I’m so mad and angry and hurt at the same time. This was senseless.”
Ms. Dees cried as she spoke and told Jones, “I have nothing but pure hatred toward you.” She expressed hope he would endure the “pain and suffering” he brought her brother, saying Jones did “the unthinkable to R.J.
“As far as I’m concerned, you have received a death sentence because where you are going, life as you know it no longer exists,” Ms. Dees said.
She described her younger brother as “always so full of life,” saying his lone fault was “trusting those he thought were his friends.”
Mrs. Gammage issued the strongest condemnation of all, telling Jones “You’re not a human. You’re a demon, demon of the devil. . . not fit to even be in this world.”
She concluded by saying the death penalty would have been too easy because she wanted him to suffer “till you take your last breath, and then you go straight to hell!”
She said everyone loved her son, who would sometimes call her a dozen times a day, and she told Jones, “You chose him because he was easy, disabled. (You would) take his money every month, what little he got.
“You will have the wrath of God upon you. I will never forgive you—never—and I don’t think God will. . .You need to go to the deepest pit of hell and burn for eternity,” Mrs. Gammage declared.
“You murdered and tortured my son,” who was “so good,” she said. “It never leaves my mind. My pain is continuous and will be every day.”
She also speculated that her son was thinking of his mother as he was about to die and praying “Please, God, let this be over.”
“Look at his picture,” she told Jones. “Look at him. He had nothing but love in his heart. . .”
Jones, whose adoptive parents attended the hearing, said nothing during the 27-minute proceeding except to plead guilty and briefly answer questions from Judge Parish, sometimes in a soft voice, before Gammage’s family addressed him.
During the proceeding, he entered a plea-in-bar on aggravated kidnapping charges in Gregg County, effectively dismissing that charge with the consent of Gregg County District Attorney Carl Dorrough, Byrd said.