Tennessee Supreme Court Upholds Death Penalty for Shelby County Man

January 30, 2019

The Tennessee Supreme Court has upheld two death sentences for the man who murdered two individuals in their home in Bartlett, Tennessee, in 2003.

Henry Lee Jones appealed his convictions and sentences after a jury found him guilty of the premeditated murder of both victims, Clarence and Lillian James. This trial was the second time Jones had been tried for these murders, after his original convictions were reversed and the case was remanded for a new trial.  At the conclusion of the penalty phase in his second trial, the jury again sentenced Jones to death on the first degree murder convictions.  The Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the convictions and sentences on appeal.

The Supreme Court, which is required to review all death penalty cases, also considered other issues on appeal, including whether the defendant was unconstitutionally denied the right to counsel, whether the trial court properly admitted the former testimony of a witness upon a determination that the witness was “unavailable,” whether the evidence introduced at trial was sufficient to convict the defendant, and whether the trial court erred when it denied the appointment of a mitigation expert.  The Court also conducted a required review of Jones’ death sentences.

The Court held that the trial court did not err in denying the defendant’s motion for mistrial based upon Jones’ own ineffectiveness in representing himself or in denying Jones’ motion to appoint a second attorney.  Furthermore, the Court found no error on the part of the trial court on a number of evidentiary issues raised by Jones.  Next, the Supreme Court determined that the evidence introduced at trial was sufficient to support Jones’ convictions for the premeditated murder of both victims. 

Under the Court’s mandatory review of Jones’ death sentences, the Court determined that the evidence presented by the State supported all of the aggravating circumstances applied by the jury.  Additionally, given that Jones waived any presentation of mitigating circumstances, the Court agreed with the jury that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstance in this case.  Finally, the Court determined that the death sentences were not disproportionate to sentences imposed in other similar cases.

In her concurring opinion, Justice Sharon G. Lee agreed with the Court’s outcome, but stated she believed that when reviewing whether a death sentence is disproportionate to similar cases, the Court should not limit its review solely to cases in which the death penalty was imposed, but should review all first degree murder cases in which life imprisonment or a sentence of death was imposed. Using that analysis, she also concluded that the defendant’s sentence of death was not excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases.

Oral arguments for this case were heard as part of the Court’s S.C.A.L.E.S. (Supreme Court Advancing Legal Education for Students) project at Lipscomb University during the American Legion Auxiliary Volunteer Girls State program. To read the majority opinion in State of Tennessee v. Henry Lee Jones, authored by Chief Justice Jeff Bivins, and the concurring opinion by Justice Sharon G. Lee, go to the opinions section of TNCourts.gov.