Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., already charged for opening fire on fellow University of Virginia students and killing three of them in November, has been hit with 13 new indictments, including a relatively new type of murder charge that carries mandatory life imprisonment.
Appearing Friday morning in Albemarle County Circuit Court on a video feed from the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, where he has been held without bail since his Nov. 14 arrest, Jones listened as Judge Claude Worrell advised him of the new indictments. Unlike his prior second-degree murder charges, the new aggravated murder charges are Class 1 felonies, which carry no chance of release.
"That’s the real difference between what you were charged with previously versus what you are charged with now," said Worrell.
The 23-year-old Jones betrayed no emotion but nodded silently at this news. Eight friends and family of the victims watched and listened from the courtroom gallery.
Jones is accused of shooting five unsuspecting and sleeping students inside a chartered bus that was parking on Culbreth Road on UVa Grounds after returning from an out-of-state field trip on Nov. 13.
Cavalier football players Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry were killed and two others, Marlee Morgan and Michael Hollins, were injured in the gunfire. The latter, a teammate of the slain players, recovered from his injuries and is returning to the field this fall.
His mother was in court Friday but declined to comment to The Daily Progress.
"This is a first appearance for some new indictments by a special grand jury that met in Albemarle County," was Judge Worrell’s explanation of Friday’s hearing.
The special grand jury returned the new charges Wednesday, according to a statement from the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, which clarified that alternate theories of guilt will enable a jury to convict on three of six new murder charges, which supersede the old charges.
When Virginia abolished the state’s death penalty two years ago, lawmakers renamed the underlying charge, capital murder, which includes multiple-death slayings, as aggravated murder and fixed the sentence at life in prison.
Worrell used the Friday hearing to appoint Jones’s existing legal team, the Office of the Public Defender, to represent him. Worrell also ordered that Jones continue to be held without bail and set a status hearing for Oct. 2.
Besides the murder charges, the two malicious wounding charges for shooting Hollins and Morgan have also been upgraded to aggravated malicious wounding. Plus, there are five indictments for the use of a firearm in a felony.
The commonwealth’s attorney’s statement notes that the new murder charges could allow a jury to convict on the lesser offense of first-degree murder, which carries a term of 20 years to life. Jones has not yet been given a chance to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges.