A Bryant woman was sentenced Wednesday to a total of 35 years with the Arkansas Department of Correction for a sex crime involving a juvenile.
Before the start of the second day of the trial, 26-year-old Michelle Logan Jones agreed to accept a negotiated "no contest" plea to a charge of first-degree sexual assault.
Saline County Circuit Judge Grisham Phillips then sentenced Jones to 20 years in prison followed by a 15-year suspended sentence. Jones will be eligible for parole after serving a minimum of five years.
On Tuesday, Jones' victim took the stand and told the jury about alcohol, drugs and a sexual relationship. She explained that though Jones is considered her aunt, she didn't meet her until 2010 at the age of 13. While her father was engaged in military service in Iraq, the victim lived with her grandparents in Bryant, but Jones often was her babysitter.
In opening statements, defense attorneys painted the victim as a "lonely" and attention-starved girl who became obsessed with Jones. They suggested that the victim fabricated the sexual relationship through poems, creative writing and even in dreams.
"She'll probably testify that she loves and is obsessed with (Jones)," Attorney Pat Marshall said. "She is very enamored with (Jones). It is fantasy. It's creative writing ...There was just a friendship."
The victim later told the jury that along with her brothers, they often spent the night with Jones and her roommates. The victim said that while her brothers slept on a couch with a pull-out bed, she usually slept with Jones in Jones' bedroom. She said the two first started sharing intimate details of their life and became close.
"I told her everything," the victim said. "I began feeling very close to her (Jones)."
She said that soon Jones began letting her drink beer and even take pills, specifically muscle relaxers. The victim said she often attended parties at Jones' home, was nicknamed "beer-caddy" and even gave money to Jones for beer or food. She said she often saw numerous people, including Jones, not only drink various alcoholic drinks and take various prescription pills, but also saw them smoke marijuana.
There was also a text message picture sent from Jones' phone to the victim showing a hand holding a glass marijuana pipe. The victim said she knows this is Jones' hand because of a ring she wore in the picture. The victim now had the ring on her hand.
The victim testified about a party for her 14th birthday at Jones home in which other high school kids mingled with adults. Alcohol and drugs were included at the event, she said. However, the victim said her favorite times were those she spent alone with Jones.
She said the two first started cuddling in the bed and later on the couch while watching movies or television shows. But she testified that the two did not cuddle in front of other people. She also testified that the two often told each other "I love you" and that the relationship turned to kissing along with the cuddling. She said text messages and phone calls were shared "daily" and sometimes late at night or early in the mornings.
"It was mutual," the victim said. "It made me feel safe and secure."
After a long pause and tears, the victim said that Jones did touch her body "everywhere" including her "private parts." She admitted that the kissing, touching and cuddling then led to various sexual activities.
The victim said the relationship with Jones lasted until June of 2011 when the victim's parents discovered details of the relationship in her journal. She admitted that she initially denied the relationship to police because "I was scared."
The victim, however, said she did not realize that her iPhone would be taken as evidence. It was there that text messages, notes and messages through Facebook.com was discovered. She also admitted that her dad made her delete contact with Jones on her Facebook page, but said both she and Jones created new Facebook pages and continued speaking with each other.
The jury was shown and read various messages in which the victim confessed her love for Jones. One reply from Jones asked, "Has anyone else seen this?" Another said, "It scares me that I'm your first" and a third mentioned "returning the favor."
The victim explained that this was during a text message regarding oral sex. Among that set of text messages, Jones replied to the victim, "You didn't want it. I forced it on you. You pushed me away two or three times." The victim replied, "I like it, though it is so wrong. I know I don't want it to go that far again." Jones had a text reply that read, "It's out of control. You have to tell me no."
There was also a text message exchange between the victim and Jones in which Jones had asked the 14-year-old for money "for weed." Jones even texted that she wanted "Hydro's and (Xanax) bars," then joked about "coke" when asked if she wanted anything else by the victim.
There was a note on her phone that told of a party at Jones' home in which there was beer, vodka drinks and tequila shots. The next morning, the victim sent a text message to Jones that said, "Woke up without my shirt on. I know I went to bed with one on. Sounds like you." Jones had replied, "I know right?"
There was a text message from Jones to the victim in which she talks about a recurring dream of seeing (the victim's) face.
Among those text messages, Jones replied, "We have Hydro's, we can stay up."
The victim said there were "thousands" of text messages between her and Jones between 2009 and 2011, and all was on the same iPhone. The defense asked the victim if her grandma "ever talked to you about being overly affectionate with Michelle (Jones)?" The victim replied "I don't think so." The victim also said "yes" when asked if she ever writes creative stories, poems or even dreams in her journal. The victim also said "no" when asked if her iPhone was every hacked. When asked if she ever set her phone down, in which another person could have used her phone, the victim replied, "Yeah, but I usually laid it in my room or (Michelle Jones') room.
"Did you ever write in your journal about things you wanted to happen in your future as a young woman?" Marshall asked the victim.
"Yes, I think so," the victim replied.
The victim replied "yes" when Saline County Deputy Prosecutor Rebecca Bush, representing the state, asked if Jones was supposed to be the adult in charge when she was at Jones' home. When Bush asked the victim if she would intentionally make things up to hurt Michelle Jones, the victim replied "no." Bush then asked the victim if her life would be easier if the charges were never brought against Jones and if she would be happier. The victim replied "yes" to both questions.
The victim's father also took the stand on Tuesday. He admitted to not being aware of the depth of the relationship between his daughter and Jones.
"It seemed like a typical aunt/niece relationship. They picked on each other, watched a lot of the same (TV) shows or just hung out," he said. "I wasn't concerned, but if anything arose, I would tell Michelle (Jones) to make sure they act appropriately."
He said he once found the two asleep in the same bed, but after both said they just fell asleep, he made the two start sleeping in separate areas. The father said he became aware of the true nature of the relationship after receiving a late night call from his former wife.
"I searched (the victim's) room and found her diary," he said. "I was very concerned with what I saw in the diary. I then called the police and gave them her cell phone and diary."
When questioned by defense attorney Thomas Burns, the father said there were "many conversations" about Jones being the parental guardian when his daughter visited or stayed the night. He also said that he previously spoke with his daughter, Jones and also his parents "about boundaries." When asked if he or anyone else sent text messages from her daughter's iPhone, he said one person sent one text from her iPhone one time.
"No one else had (daughter's) password until I got it later from her," he said.
The father also said upon the discovery of the secret Facebook page, he then "took away all electronic devices" from his daughter. When the defense asked the father about Jones being "mentally disabled," he responded "I wasn't aware of the type of disability. Honestly, she never acted in a way that was alarming."
None of the scheduled witnesses were called on the second day of the trial.
During the reading of the plea arrangement to Jones, she was asked if she was "of sound mind and body, not under the influence of drugs or alcohol" and Jones responded, "Sadly, yes." Jones later cried and shook continuously while signing documents related to the no-contest plea.
As of press time, Jones was being held in the Saline County jail awaiting transfer to an Arkansas Department of Correction facility.