By Jonathan Pleasant
Nearly eight years after the first of the crimes were committed, Billy Luther Jones victims finally got their day in court, even if the verdict was not what many were hoping for. Jones, a former resident of the Dry Hill Community who is now residing in North Carolina, pled guilty in July to five counts of felony theft, two in an amount over $60,000 and three in an amount over $10,000.
The issue originally came to light back in 2010 after a group of seven individuals who had each claimed to have been cheated by Jones came together to press criminal charges against him, accusing Jones of selling land that he didnt own, borrowing large sums of money that he did not pay back, and for property rentals that he didnt pay for. Together, Marilyn Good, Terry Wallace, Elizabeth Wallace, Richard Dugger, Carolyn Dugger, Tracy Steffey, and Ben Logan made up the group of victims that officially came forward, although there were several others who did not wish to be involved.
An investigation was conducted with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation who found enough evidence to turn the case over to the District Attorney General. Jones was arrested that same year but eventually had his bond lowered to just $20,000. At nearly 70 years old and having reportedly been diagnosed with a very serious form of cancer, Jones health has been a big issue throughout the process and has prevented him from being incarcerated.
Coming into the courtroom on a walker, Jones health was a big factor when he stood before Judge Lynn Brown for the first time this past summer alongside attorney Randy Fallin to officially plead guilty. Again, Jones was unable to serve any jail time. Setting the official sentencing for December 11th, the victims in the case knew they would have to take the stand and make their arguments heard, especially concerning Jones alleged fragile state of health.
Six of the victims in all were able to come before Brown in December to testify, along with one witness. Brown began the hearing by noting that the crimes that Jones was convicted of carried a minimum prison sentence of eight years and a maximum of 30. However, because of his age and health, Brown went on to say that he did not feel that it would actually be legal for him to sentence Jones to prison, and that even if he did it would likely be overturned by a higher court.
Regardless, each of the victims present got their chance to explain what Jones had done to them and how it had impacted their lives. Elizabeth Wallace was the first to take the stand, confirming that Jones had sold her and her husband land that he did not own though a notarized contract that proved to be illegitimate. The Wallaces paid more than $100,000 for the land located near Atwood Road in Butler, where they intended to build and operate a small hotel business.
Wallace went on to say that she had taken out a mortgage that the couple was still paying on, just to be able to make the investment, which proved to be a scam. As Judge Brown pointed out, Jones no longer has any property in his name, having given it over to his ex-wife after their divorce. With no assets other than a small social security check each month, the judge was at a loss to identify a way for Jones to come up with restitution.
Elizabeths husband, Terry, brought evidence to the court that Jones has been greatly exaggerating the seriousness of his health. Wallace went on to inform the judge that Jones has been regularly working at the Flea Market in Bluff City, pushing a cart each week selling coffee, drinks, and pastries all over the large market. Wallace even had footage of Jones at work, some of the most recent taken just days before. However, Joness attorney, Randy Fallin, also pointed out that Jones was seen holding onto the cart he was pushing, much like the walker he used to get into the court room.
Others, including Tracy Steffey, indicated that they too felt that Jones was intentionally exaggerating his condition. Steffey lost $37,000 of her inheritance following her fathers death in 2007 to Jones. Having been friends for a couple of years before he stole her money, Steffey even took Jones to his doctors appointments, which she noted never took more than 15 minutes and was always done alone. Steffey went on to say that even then, more than five years ago, Jones explained that he was terminally ill and didnt have much time left.
To support their claims, the victims even asked former sheriff Frank Osborne to go out to the market and see Jones working for himself. Taking the stand as a witness, Osborne did confirm that he saw Jones pushing and pulling the cart and selling to individuals, noting that he did appear to get around quite well.
Other victims testified as well, including both Richard and Carolyn Dugger, the owners of the Dry Hill General Store. Jones actually worked with the Duggers at the store for a time, operating a small garden center. Portraying himself as a successful businessman and president of the supposed Viper Corporation, Jones eventually earned the Duggers trust to the level that they began talking about going in as partners to have gas pumps installed at the store.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.
By Jonathan Pleasant