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Newton DA seeks death penalty
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Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against a New Jersey man charged with murdering a Newton County resident and one-time corrections officer in March.

 The Newton County District Attorney's Office filed its intentions Aug. 7 to pursue the death penalty in the case of Rodney Renia Young, 40, of Bridgeton, N.J. who allegedly killed Gary Lamar Jones, 28, using a hammer during a burglary at Jones' home on Benedict Drive.

 Young, arrested four days later in Bridgeton and extradited to Newton County, entered a not guilty plea at his arraignment Thursday in Newton County Superior Court before Judge Samuel Ozburn. He was charged with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and burglary.

 DA Ken Wynne declined to comment on the reasons the state was pursuing capital punishment because the case was still pending. He said the process is much slower for cases involving the death penalty.

 In Georgia, capital punishment is applicable to cases of murder, rape, armed robbery and kidnapping under certain conditions, including murder during the commission of another capital felony or aggravated battery, according to state statutes.

 Jones' mother discovered her son's body as she came home from work that Sunday evening around 11:30 p.m., according to the Newton County Sheriff's Office. There were reportedly signs of a forced entry, and an NCSO incident report listed the involvement of a cutting tool. Young reportedly knew Jones' mother from New Jersey, where the victim had family, according to Georgia Bureau of Investigations spokesperson John Bankhead. Jones, a former corrections officer with the state Department of Corrections and waiter at Red Lobster who sang in the choir at Springfield Baptist Church, moved to Newton County several years ago.

Assistant Public Defender Teri Smith and attorneys Dennis Francis Jr. and Jonathan Oden of the Capital Defender's Office are representing Young, said Wynne.

There were 109 inmates on death row in Georgia as of January 2008, with all except one convicted of murder, according to the Department of Correction's annual report. There have been a total of 460 state executions since 1924 - including one last year of John Washington Hightower, 63, for a Morgan County murder.

Melbert Ford Jr., now 47, was sentenced to death in Newton County in 1986 and currently sits on death row. The last person from Newton County executed in Georgia was L.C. Johnson, 19, in 1945 for murder.

One other capital punishment case is still pending in Newton County Superior Court for Cobey Wade Lakemper, for the alleged murder of hotel clerk Wendy Carter during an armed robbery on Aug. 18, 2005. No trial date has been scheduled yet, according to Wynne.