A teenager who killed a Spartanburg County fire commissioner pleaded guilty Thursday to voluntary manslaughter after a jury could not reach a verdict on the murder charge against him.
The jury deliberated for nearly five hours and notified the court at about 6:30 p.m. it could not reach a verdict on the charges of murder, possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime and malicious injury to personal property against 17-year-old Clayton Jones, according to 7th Circuit Solicitor's Office spokesman Murray Glenn.
After that, Glenn said, negotiations began with the attorneys to secure a plea.
Jones killed George Rush, a North Spartanburg fire commissioner, on Aug. 1, 2016, after wandering into his carport in an LSD-induced daze.
In addition to voluntary manslaughter, Jones agreed to also plead guilty to the other charges against him, Glenn said. Jones' attorney, Andy Johnston, said the plea agreement was reached at about 7:30 p.m. Thursday, the end of a three-day trial.
For the voluntary manslaughter conviction, Jones received a 30-year sentence suspended to 13 years — eight years in prison followed by five years of Spartanburg County home detention, and then five years of probation, Glenn said.
Judge Derham Cole also handed Jones a five-year sentence on the weapon possession conviction and 30 days for the property damage charge. Those sentences will run concurrently.
Earlier in the day, Cole dismissed the Johnston's request that the jury be given the option to convict Jones of voluntary or involuntary manslaughter.
Jones had never met Rush before that morning in August 2016, though he lived just a few doors down from him. He wandered into Rush's carport that morning after taking two doses of LSD the night before. Jones was just 16 at the time of the shooting.
During his closing argument, Johnston argued that Jones’ decision to take acid, though foolish, did not constitute the malice required for a murder conviction.
“I submit that every time somebody takes drugs, wrongfully or rightfully, they are not acting with a reckless disregard for human life, they’re not acting with malice aforethought,” Johnston told the jury. “It’s simply not foreseeable.”
Seventh Circuit Solicitor Barry Barnette, however, argued Jones’ decision to take acid made him responsible for what he did while hallucinating.
“If we excuse people for this, if we say when you take drugs you’re not responsible, we can’t have that,” he said. “… A man died because of what he did that night.”
Before the jury entered the courtroom Thursday, Jones confirmed he rejected a plea deal for voluntary manslaughter that the Solicitor’s Office offered earlier that morning, as well as before the trial began.