New Jersey man found guilty in 2008 murder of Newton County man

COVINGTON -- A New Jersey man was found guilty in the 2008 grisly murder of a Newton County man late Friday following a two-week trial in Newton County Superior Court.

Rodney R.Young showed no emotion as the verdict was returned as guilty on all five counts he faced -- malice murder, two counts of felony murder, aggravated assault and burglary -- in connection with the bludgeoning and stabbing death of 28-year-old Gary Lamar Jones.

Judge Samuel Ozburn presided over the trial prosecuted by District Attorney Layla Zon and Assistant District Attorney Melanie Bell with attorneys Joseph Romond and Teri Thompson of the Office of the Georgia Capital Defender representing the defendant.

Jones, an employee of Red Lobster restaurant in Conyers and an active member of Springfield Baptist Church, was found dead in his home on March 30, 2008, by his mother Doris Jones who had recently moved from New Jersey to Georgia to live with her son at 65 Benedict Drive.

Evidence soon pointed to Young with whom the mother had had a relationship. Young was arrested in his hometown of Bridgeton, N.J., less than a week after the slaying. He was extradited and had been awaiting trial at the Newton County Detention Center.

Faced with overwhelming evidence, the defense conceded that Young committed the crime, but maintained he is mentally retarded and, according to attorney Thompson who made the closing argument for the defense, "possessed no level of sophistication, no planning," in connection with the crime that included battering with a hammer and inflicting multiple stab wounds on the victim.

In his charge to the jury, Ozburn instructed them on each charge that they could find the defendant guilty, not guilty or guilty but mentally retarded. The latter charge would have meant that Young would be remanded to the Georgia Department of Corrections which would see to it that mental health treatment was provided to him. The guilty verdict means that the prosecution will be asking for the death penalty when the sentencing phase of the trial commences Monday morning.

The defense had called several educators who knew Young during his days at Bridgeton High School. They alleged Young was somewhat of a gentle giant who had been designated as educable mentally retarded with an IQ of less than 70, reading on a third- or fourth-grade level and unable to give directions to his home less than a mile from the school.

In her closing argument, Zon said the state had proved that these allegations were "biased," asserting that no IQ test was available from Young's formative years and the educators were not mental health experts; that Young read a consent form for a saliva test quite fluently, which had been taped during his interrogation by the Bridgeton Police (this recording was played back for the jury during their deliberations); and that he had been in and around the Atlanta area for several days before he committed the murder, navigating quite well and able to find the Benedict Drive residence where the crime was committed and use a GPS device.

Zon went on to point out that employees from Aunt Kitty's Food, a canning company where Young was employed, testified that he was punctual at work, had good grooming habits, was reliable and produced good work. Also, letters he had written to the victim's mother were produced, as well as evidence that he did his own grocery shopping, handled his own finances and lived in his own apartment. According to Zon, none of these tasks would be possible from someone who meets the definition of a person who is mentally retarded and in lacking in skills necessary for daily living.