Prosecutor pleads guilty and resigns as jury deliberates
A Georgia district attorney has pleaded guilty to several charges against him and agreed to resign from office
NOV 15, 2021 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: NOV 16, 2021
COLUMBUS, Ga. — As a jury was deliberating over his fate, a Georgia district attorney on Monday pleaded guilty to several charges stemming from improper acts while in office and agreed to resign.
Mark Jones had already been suspended as Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit district attorney after the state attorney general’s office obtained the indictment on Sept. 7. It accused him of trying to influence a police officer’s testimony, offering bribes to prosecutors in his office and trying to influence and prevent the testimony of a crime victim.
Jones took office in January, overseeing the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit, which serves Muscogee, Harris, Chattahoochee, Marion, Talbot and Taylor counties in west Georgia.
After deliberating briefly Thursday and then all day Friday, jurors had indicated Friday afternoon that they were unanimous on three of the nine charges, and the judge instructed them to keep working on the others, according to local news outlets.
After about an hour of deliberations Monday, jurors said they had reached a consensus of guilty on five charges, but Jones had decided to agree to a plea deal, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reported.
There’s a whole lot more wrong than just the criminal system and you’re leadin’ the @JudiciaryDems – appointing federal judges who executed millions of families lives for Greed.
Let’s reform the criminal justice system by removin’ and jailin’ the outlaws in dirty black robes. pic.twitter.com/VKN0StO43E
— LawsInTexas (@lawsintexasusa) November 16, 2021
He pleaded guilty to four counts in the indictment in exchange for a sentence of five years — one year to be served in prison and the remainder on probation — and a $1,000 fine,
Attorney General Chris Carr said in a news release.
Jones also agreed to resign, submitting a resignation letter to Gov. Brian Kemp.
“By abusing his power and abdicating his responsibility as district attorney, Mark Jones did a disservice to those he was elected to protect and put our very justice system at risk,” Carr said in the release. “This outcome is a victory for integrity in prosecutions and the rule of law.”
Superior Court Judge Katherine Lumsden had Jones taken into custody immediately, denying his request to turn himself in on Friday.
The governor can now appoint a district attorney to serve until one can be elected. Until he does, Acting District Attorney Sheneka Terry, who took over when Jones was suspended, will continue to hold the role.
The judge noted that the corruption case against Jones was different from some others.
“You didn’t line your own pockets. You didn’t do some of the things that normally are involved when we think of public corruption,” she said. “But I think you got so caught up in being the DA that you forgot about the people you ran to represent.”
Jones pleaded guilty to one count of influencing witnesses for telling a police officer to testify a certain way.
He also pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted violation of oath by a public officer for offering two prosecutors in his office $1,000 each in exchange for following instructions he gave them.
And he pleaded guilty to one count of violation of oath by a public officer for not helping a crime victim’s nephew understand the court system and his rights.
Juror Iesha James told reporters after the plea that jurors had reached guilty verdicts on five counts, the Ledger-Enquirer reported. That included two of the ones involved in the plea agreement.
Jurors heard three days of testimony from prosecution witnesses last week. Jones’ defense attorney, Katonga Wright, didn’t call any witnesses.
Jones didn’t testify.
Before sentencing Jones, the judge mentioned an encounter Jones had with a homicide detective outside a downtown Columbus bar late at night.
Jones was captured on body camera video saying the officer should have charged a shooting suspect with murder instead of involuntary manslaughter.
“When I watched that body cam video, all I could think was, ‘This does not make people trust the system,’”
Lumsden told Jones.
Justice, she said, does not mean winning at any cost: “If it becomes that, then we have much bigger problems than the criminal justice system has already, and we can’t afford to let that happen.”
Two prosecutors in the district attorney’s office also testified that Jones had offered them $1,000 even thought they’d taken an oath only to accept the compensation they were due. He offered to pay one to secure a murder conviction and to pay the other to say a case was ready for trial when it wasn’t.
In addition to the two counts of attempting to get them to violate their oaths of office that Jones pleaded guilty to, he had also faced bribery charges for those allegations.
Katonga L. Wright, Esq. Born in Columbus, GA on March 25, Katonga was admitted to Georgia Bar, November 2007 and the Florida Bar, August 2009. She is a graduate of Emory University, Atlanta, GA (BS-Chemistry, minor Political Science, May 1999) where she was a member of the American Chemical Society, was an undergraduate research assistant in the Chemistry Department, and served as the Office of Multicultural Programs & Services Student Program Coordinator Assistant, office intern, and M.O.R.E mentor. Katonga is a 1995 graduate of G.W. Carver High School.
From 1999-2004, Katonga worked as a Forensic Toxicologist with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Laboratory. During her tenure, she managed the Columbus, GA medium output lab. She was certified by the Georgia Department of Public Safety and admitted as a Forensic Expert in courts throughout Georgia.
She attended Georgia State University College of Law (JD, May 2007), and studied International Arbitration at Johannes Kepler University in Linz, Austria. During law school, she was a member of the Bleckley Inn of Courts and was an Urban Fellow.
She served as the Vice-President of the Student Trial Lawyers Association Mock Trial Team; Vice-President, Black Law Students Association; Thurgood Marshall Mock Trial Competition Team- Regional Winner and National Runner-up; American Trial Lawyers Association Mock Trial Team; William Daniel Mock Trial Competition Team; Bioethics Mock Trial Competition Team-First Place; Gate City Bar Association Scholarship Recipient, United States Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Georgia, Intern 2006-2007. She interned with Shivers & Associates, Staff Counsel for Travelers Insurance, during the summer of 2006 and accepted a permanent position in July 2007.
Katonga has a background in insurance defense litigation, with a concentration in personal and business liability, and is passionate about her work as an award winning trial attorney. In addition to practicing law, she served as co-chairperson of the Travelers Staff Counsel Summer Associate Program, Southeast Regional Recruiting Coordinator for the Staff Counsel Diversity Committee, and served on the Alpharetta Claim Service Center Diversity Steering Committee. She also worked with diversity initiatives within the State Bar of Georgia. From 2010-2015, Katonga served on the Executive Board of the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys (GABWA), as the vice-president of the Columbus, GA affiliate. She served as the president of the Fountain City Bar Association for 3 years and is now the current Philanthropy Chair. She is also a member of the Columbus Bar Association, Georgia Trial Lawyers Association, and the Gate City Bar Association. Katonga is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and Links, Inc. She is Vice-Chair of Columbus Trade Center Authority, and is serving on the board of the Columbus, GA Chamber of Commerce. She is the founder of Master of My Fate Mentoring Program, a not for profit initiative started to give students access to mentoring opportunities and career related camps and programs. For the past four years, the program as focused on law related internships and summer camps for kids and young adults interested in becoming lawyers.
In 2011, Katonga and her father, Attorney William J. Wright, Sr. (GA Bar admitted,1977), founded The Wright Legal Group, LLC. As a boutique litigation firm, Wright Legal is built upon bibilical principles and focuses in the areas of Serious Personal Injury, Wrongful Death, Traffic/DUI, and Business Law. The firm is devoted to assisting clients in resolving legal claims, providing free legal education and consulting services to business owners with small claim questions and disputes, and contributing efforts to community development such as the Muscogee County Jail Project, a criminal justice reform initiative. In 2012, she was appointed Associate Magistrate Court Judge, and served as a Pro Hac Judge in that court.
In addition to her various non-profit board commitments and various speaking engagements, Katonga is the mother of two sons. She has entrepreneurial aspirations of developing a global powerhouse law firm by adhering to this mission: To provide cutting-edge, envirnomentally-friendly, technology infused legal services to diverse clients, business partners, and communities around the world. Wright Legal wants you to expect exceptional, and get it!