The Equal Justice Initiative’s 2007 report describes Ashley’s Jones offense as follows: “At 14, Ashley tried to escape the violence and abuse by running away with an older boyfriend who shot and killed her grandfather and aunt. Her grandmother and sister, who were injured during the offense, want Ashley to come home.”
The actual facts of the case, taken from the judge’s written findings, appear below.
Defendant: Ashley Jones (14)
Victims: Deroy Nalls (grandfather; murdered), Millie Nalls (aunt; murdered), Mary Elizabeth Nalls (grandmother; attempted murder), Mary Elizabeth Jones (sister; attempted murder)
Crimes: Two counts, first degree capital murder. Two counts, attempted first degree murder & other charges
Crime date: August 30, 1999 in Birmingham, Alabama
In a span of minutes, Ashley Jones and her boyfriend shot her grandfather twice in the face and then stabbed him until he died; shot her sleeping aunt three times; shot her grandmother in the shoulder and then stabbed her, poured lighter fluid on her, set her on fire, and watched her burn; and stabbed her 10-year old sister 14 times. Jones then took $300 from her grandfather’s wallet and the keys to his Cadillac, which she drove away from the crime scene.
After Ashley Jones stabbed her father and pregnant mother in 1998, killing neither, she and her younger sister were sent to live with her grandparents and maternal aunt. Deroy Nalls, her 78-year-old grandfather, was a retired steelworker and deacon at his church. His wife, Mary Nalls, 73, was a homemaker.
By late August of 1999, the Nalls were growing tired of Jones’s bad behavior and grounded her for staying out all night at a party. The Nalls did not approve of Jones’s boyfriend, Geramie Hart, and told him not to visit their house. This angered Jones.
Jones and Hart decided to kill everyone in the house, set it on fire, and take their money. To prepare, Jones stole two of her grandfather’s guns and smuggled them out of the house to Hart. She mixed together rubbing alcohol, nail polish remover, and charcoal fire starter in anticipation of setting the house ablaze.
It took the couple two days to put their plan into action. On the evening of August 30, 1999, Jones kept an eye on her relatives until they had settled in for the evening. Then she called Hart. He arrived around 11:15 p.m., and Jones led him into the house. He was carrying the .38 revolver taken from Jones’s grandfather.
Jones and Hart sneaked into the den, where her grandfather was watching television. Hart shot him twice in the face; still alive, Deroy stumbled toward the kitchen. Next, they visited the bedroom of Millie Nalls, 30, Ashley’s aunt, and shot her three times. Seeing that her aunt was still breathing, Jones hit her in the head with a portable heater, stabbed her in the chest, and attempted to set the room on fire.
The gunshots awakened Jones’s grandmother, and she got out of bed. That was when Jones and Hart entered her bedroom and shot her once in the shoulder. It was their last bullet.
Jones and Hart returned to the den to discover that her grandfather was still alive. With knives from the kitchen, they stabbed him over and over again and left one knife embedded in his back. Jones poured charcoal lighter fluid on her grandfather, set him ablaze, and listened to him groan as he burned alive.
The noise attracted Jones’s 10-year-old sister, Mary Elizabeth Jones, to the kitchen. From there, should see her grandfather on the den floor, ablaze. Soon after, the wounded Mary Nalls entered the kitchen and called out to her dying husband. Jones stabbed her grandmother in the face with an ice pick. Jones then poured lighter fluid on her, set her on fire, and watched her burn.
Mary Elizabeth attempted to leave, but Jones grabbed her and began punching. Hart shoved the pistol in Mary’s face and said that he was going to shoot her. Jones intervened: “No, let me do it.” She stabbed her sister 14 times and stopped only after Mary curled up in a ball on the floor and pretended to be dead. Jones and Hart piled sheets, towels, and paper on the floor and set the pile on fire.
Jones and Hart removed about $300 from her grandparents’ mattress and took the keys to their Cadillac, which they drove to a local hotel. Jones spent the night partying at the hotel, with her grandfather’s blood on her socks and grandmother’s blood on her shirt.
Miraculously, Mary Elizabeth and her grandmother Mary had survived. Mary Elizabeth helped her grandmother out of the house and walked to a neighbor’s home for help. They called the police, who quickly responded to the scene. Police officers found Deroy Nalls dead on the living room floor, Millie Nalls dead in her bed, and Mary Nalls heavily wounded. Firefighters were able to extinguish the fire lit by Jones and Hart.
The following morning, news outlets reported the murders, as well as the fact that Jones’s sister had survived. The news angered her. “I thought I killed that bitch,” she later explained.
Mary Elizabeth received stitches for her numerous stab wounds and was hospitalized with a collapsed lung. Mary was treated for gunshot and stab wounds and the burns that covered a third of her body. She spent a month in the burn unit of a local hospital, undergoing multiple skin grafts, before undergoing treatment at a rehabilitation facility to relearn how to use her arms after the burns.
Hart and Jones were arrested the next morning after police identified the Nallses’ vehicle in the parking lot.
Speaking to police, Jones admitted that “we both” stabbed her grandfather. She explained further: “I mean we shot Millie second…me and Geramie just started shooting her. And then…and then I went back in there and she was still breathing, so…I hit her on the head with the heater and stabbed her in her heart. And she just started coughing up blood.”
According to the prosecutor, Laura Poston, Ashley Jones displayed no emotion throughout the trial:
Sociopaths can however be in the form of a 14, now 15 year old petite girl with a pretty face who can sit all week in a courtroom, look at pictures of her dead grandfather and aunt, listen to her sister cry as she recounts the horrors of that night, and not shed a tear. The first time Ashley showed any emotion about what happened that night was when the jury read the verdicts finding her guilty of two counts of capital murder and two counts of attempted murder—she cried her first tears.
Judge Gloria Bahakel noted in her sentencing decision that Jones “did not express genuine remorse of her actions.” The judge continued: “Although she apologized, at the prompting of the Court, her words were hollow and insincere. Furthermore, it was brought to the attention of the Court that while awaiting her sentencing, the defendant had threatened older female inmates in the Jefferson County Jail by telling them she would do the same thing to them that she had done to her family.”
Charles D. Stimson is Senior Legal Fellow and Andrew M. Grossman is Senior Legal Policy Analyst in the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation.