UPDATE (Feb. 21, 7:24 p.m.) Rodney Young was sentenced to the death penalty Tuesday evening by a Newton County jury.
(Feb. 20, 8:05 p.m.) The jury in the death penalty case has already ruled that Rodney Young is guilty but not mentally retarded in the 2008 murder of Gary Jones. Now they have to decide if the convicted murderer gets life in prison or the death penalty for his actions.
"Listen to this evidence keeping in mind that the defendant was a grown man when he committed this offense," urged Newton County District Attorney Layla Zon.
Young's capital defender Teri Thompson told jurors that Young would be punished "every hour of every day for the rest of his life," but asked them to not choose the death penalty in the case.
"There is no excuse. What happened to Gary Jones was horrific... there is no defense and the pain and the agony that Gary Jones' family now lives with is terrible... We ask that you choose life for Rodney."
Since Young has been convicted in Jones' death jurors can hear things in the penalty phase that they could not in the guilt/innocence portion of the trial, including about instances of violence in Young's past.
A former girlfriend told jurors how Young once attacked her on the street, kicking and hitting her, causing bruised ribs and a bloodshot eye and that he once punched her at a bar so hard that she needed stitches both above and below her left eye.
Doris Jones, the victim's mother and Young's girlfriend off and on for seven years told jurors that he had once choked her when she showed up to his home unannounced and that she had called the police on him in the past, once for swinging at her, once for smashing a brick through the hood of her car. Although she did file for a temporary protection order, she dismissed it and the two got back together.
Friends and family of Jones were able to address the jury by reading from their victim impact statements.
"There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about what I saw. I replay the scene over and over of Gary's body when I came home that day," said Doris. "My son didn't deserve to die."
She also told them that she now takes medication for depression, has a fear of unlocking doors and oftentimes wakes up screaming in the middle of the night from nightmares of finding her son's body, beaten, stabbed and bound to a chair in his church clothes.
Jones' aunt Stephanie Chanel broke down as she told jurors about the close relationship she had with him and her anger.
"I feel angry and hurt because my nephew didn't deserve to die the way he did... I don't understand now and I probably will never understand."
And Jones' girlfriend at the time of his murder, Shanika Cole (who is a law enforcement officer in Walton County), shared her guilt that she didn't protect Jones, a man she called her "jewel."
"The guilt is so heavy in my heart for the loss of my precious jewel... I took an oath to protect and I couldn't protect my own... I can only say that I miss my jewel so much... I never got to say goodbye. Gary I am so sorry for letting you down when you needed me most."
The most emotional victim impact statement came from Jones' grandmother Annie Sampson.
"I have a hard time accepting the murder of Gary. My heart feels like it has been ripped out. I will always miss him. That beautiful soul, his spirit, his love. I cant express my pain, my sorrow," she said, choking up slightly and pausing on the stand.
"My life will never be the same. He was cut off from this life too early. He deserved to marry, to have children. I should have met great grandchildren by Gary. Why? I can't understand and I wish I could... When will this pain we are going through go away... I will always love Gary. He's in my heart."
Young's defense attorneys brought forth many of the same teachers who taught him in high school nearly three decades ago - many of who seemed to express guilt for not having done more for Young when he was in high school.
Wayne Hendricks who met Young at Bridgeton High School when Young was a student teared up when asking the jury for mercy.
"Having known Rodney for as long as I have, he was a student, a father, a son, a brother and he's a friend. It's almost as if part of me is on trial because despite his limitations we worked together to get him where he could function as a successful individual. He has value... allowing him to live I think he could demonstrate the value that his life has."
When Zon asked Hendricks if he knew any of the details of the murder of Jones he admitted that he did not.
Young's mother Sarah Brihm told jurors of an absent father and summers spent in the blueberry fields. She is now the legal guardian of Young's youngest daughter.
"I'd like the jury to know that Rodney has been a good boy and I think there can be more punishment without the death penalty... I miss my son every day."
The last to take the stand to plead for Young's life was his 16-year-old daughter. She told jurors that she planned to attend college in Georgia when she graduates high school to be closer to her father and that he tries to speak to him regularly. When asked to read a birthday card she sent to her father she broke down on the stand, begging jurors, "please don't kill my dad!"