It’s long been expected that the three-person defense team representing accused killer Michael David Jones would pull rabbits out of hats in an effort to plant doubt in the minds of the trial jury, or to paint Jones in a sympathetic light.
Last Thursday the defense gave some clues as to what direction they might be going, dredging up Jones’ alleged horrible childhood and claims of serious medical problems as mitigating factors. At the same time, prosecutors made it clear that they will not let the defense get away with playing fast and loose with the facts – even if it means vigorously cross-examining an 89-year-old woman with the aim of destroying her credibility as a character witness.
The purpose of the hearing before Judge Dan Vaughn was to take live video testimony from Jones’ grandmother Ann McDonald Clark, who lives in Macon, Ga. The testimony is not intended for the trial, but to be used if needed for the sentencing phase of the case should Jones be convicted of killing his 26-year-old girlfriend, Moorings resident and Sebastian River Medical Center nurse Diana Duve in June 2014. Lawyers said Clark’s health is failing and she might not live to testify after the four-week trial set to begin in early October.
Assistant Public Defenders Stanley Glenn and Shane Manship traveled to Georgia and set up a video feed that streamed onto a large screen in Vaughn’s Vero courtroom. Assistant Public Defender Dorothy Naumann, the third lawyer on Jones’ case, just back from maternity leave represented Jones in person before Judge Vaughn.
Manship presented a lengthy biography of Clark, and a history of Jones’ extended family tree, the relevance of which both the prosecution and Judge Vaughn questioned.
Clark testified about Jones’ parents belonging to a bizarre religious group called “The Way” and said Jones’ father was domineering and that she had suspicions of abuse in the home. There was a great deal of innuendo, but upon closer scrutiny, the prosecutor ferreted out that Jones’ parents had exited the so-called cult before Jones was born, that Clark had no direct evidence of any abuse of her daughter or of Jones. In fact, she had seen her grandson only sporadically as a child, and only twice as an adult – the most recent time over Christmas break when he was attending the University of Georgia 15 years ago.
Since then Clark has only had infrequent email contact with Jones, twice a year after she mails him a $25 check for Christmas or his birthday. Clark had no idea Jones had been married once, let alone twice. All of this information, elicited by Chief Deputy Assistant State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl on cross-examination, showed it was a huge stretch – not to mention a waste of the court’s time – for the defense team to hold out the sweet, articulate elderly grandmother in precarious health as a credible character witness for Jones’ potential sentencing.
The prosecution also got Clark, a retired career educator and school administrator holding graduate degrees, to admit her own strong bias as a witness, that she never liked Jones’ father and was against the marriage because her daughter was only 18 at the time of betrothal and shelved her education to take on a husband and three children.
Duve’s parents and close family, plus a half dozen friends and former co-workers present in the courtroom shook their heads in disbelief after the dismantling of the meat of Clark’s video testimony concluded.
Bakkedahl took the lead in questioning Clark, as he has handled oral arguments about delays and contentious motions in this case, while Assistant State Attorney Brian Workman has shouldered the paperwork, depositions, evidence and pleadings in this five-year effort to prosecute Jones and get justice for Duve and her family.
For those wondering what theories the defense might float at the trial in October, one big thing stood out in Bakkedahl’s questioning of Clark. In addition to weeding through the speculation about Jones’ alleged abusive childhood, he asked Clark if she knew of the defendant ever suffering from a brain injury that affected his youthful cognitive development, his performance in school or his “impulse control.”
After the hearing, Bakkedahl declined to explain his line of cross-examination about Jones having had some mysterious traumatic brain injury, only saying that after a very long wait, “We are prepared to take this case to trial.”
Over the past year, court records show that several out-of-town medical doctors have been involved in the case, and Jones was transported at least once for a battery of medical or psychological tests, all paid for by the State of Florida, but those expenditures and test results are not publicly available. Funds were also approved for the defense to employ the services of an investigator.
Psychologist Steven Gold, PhD is one of the expert medical witnesses whose name is listed in court documents. On the website for his Plantation, Florida, practice, Gold lists his credentials in the area of treating various types of trauma for the past 30 years. Gold’s sales pitch to prospective clients hints at arguments the defense could raise.
“Are you seeking to recover from the impact of traumatic experiences? Do you have nightmares, flashbacks, unwanted thoughts about what you have been through? Do you find yourself slipping into states of spacing out, fuzzy or blank periods, feeling as if you or your surroundings are distant or unreal, or plagued by a sense of inner dividedness? Most importantly, do you want stop being haunted by a painful past and build a fulfilling present and future? My investment is to partner with you to help you envision and attain the quality of life that you’ve always wished for, even if you never dared believe it was attainable,” Gold’s website states.
Among the other medical experts listed in court documents are forensic neuropsychologist Dr. Joseph Sesta of Apollo Beach near Tampa, neurologist Dr. David Ross of Plantation General Hospital in Broward County, and Dr. Joseph Wu of the University of California-Irvine, a specialist in brain injuries including chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition often found in professional football players.
Jones’ medical records and depositions of these specialists have been sealed from the public and the media for patient privacy reasons, or due to attorney-client privilege as it pertains to defense strategy, so it’s tough to know for sure what claims the defense may make. But documents in the court record since the beginning of the police investigation show that Jones not only graduated high school, but also completed college, law school and advanced training to prepare him to work in the investment management field.
While employed at PNC Wealth Management, Jones handled high-end portfolios for wealthy barrier island residents, and he was given salary increases as a rising star at the Ocean Drive branch.