ST. GEORGE – A Washington City man was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences without an opportunity for parole Tuesday for a 2011 double murder.
“Mr. Jones, you will die an inmate at the Utah State Prison,” 5th District Judge Eric Ludlow told Richard Jones, 50, as he was sentenced for the February 2011 murders of his wife, Michelle Ellis, and stepson Owen Ellis. “That is a sobering reality that is the consequence of your action.”
Jones pleaded no contest to the murders on Sept. 9. Each charge against him was listed as first-degree felony aggravated murder. He is accused of shooting 19-year-old Owen Ellis six times while Ellis was in bed and then shooting 42-year-old Michelle Ellis three times while she was calling 911 about the incident. Jones then turned the firearm he used, a .45 caliber handgun, on himself.
Unlike his wife and stepson, Jones survived and was taken to University Medical Center in Las Vegas for treatment.
Due to a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, Jones has said he has no memory of the incident that took place in Washington City. Instead, he told the court, he remembered a different course of events in which he was in Las Vegas and attempted suicide the night of the murders.
“I don’t believe I was there,” Jones said, yet acknowledged witness and police accounts that he was.
He told the court he had always taught his children to accept responsibility for their actions, which he said he was now doing.
“I have to accept responsibility,” he said.
Jones also addressed the family of the victims seated in the courtroom.
“I don’t know if you can ever forgive me what for I’ve done, but I hope you can,” he said.
Washington County Deputy Attorney Ryan Shaum, who represented the prosecution, said, “We still don’t know why Mr. Jones did what he did.”
Shaum did note that Jones has a history of depression and sometimes self-medicated with alcohol, but what happened that day was “inexcusable and irreversible,” he said.
The state fully supported a presentencing recommendation that Jones serve life in prison for both aggravated murder counts without the possibility of parole and that the sentences be served back-to-back.
Stephen McCaughey, Jones’ attorney, asked the court to consider sentences of 25 years to life that presented a slim possibility for parole. He noted a future parole board may not grant parole at all, but asked that the board at least be allowed that discretion.
McCaughey told the court it was clear Jones has accepted responsibility for what he did by entering a no contest plea. Entering the plea also helped avoid dragging the case into a trial, he said.
Amid heavy emotion, Dillon Jones, Richard Jones’ son, also asked the court to allow his father parole at some future point.
Members of the victims’ family were also allowed to address the court before the sentencing was handed down.
“We’re not here to exact vengeance – that’s the Lord’s job,” Fred Wahlgren, stepfather and step-grandfather to Michelle Ellis and Owen Ellis, said.
Wahlgren said the whole family has been shaken up by the murders and that any forgiveness for Jones would take a long time. Ultimately, the family wants Jones to be incarcerated for life so he doesn’t have a chance for any future acts of violence, he said.
Christopher Ellis, Owen Ellis’ father, said he is still dealing with the impact of his son’s death nearly four years after the event.
“That night, my life was changed forever,” he said.
“He was a goodhearted kid,” Christopher Ellis said of his son. “I miss my son every day.”
Christopher Ellis asked the court to give Jones no less than two consecutive life terms without parole.
“The punishment should fit the crime,” Shaum said, adding that, in this case, the state felt the family’s request and the presentencing recommendation were justified.
“There’s no reason Mr. Jones should be walking the street or ever have the chance to be walking the streets again,” Shaum said.
After hearing statements from attorneys and family members, Ludlow sentenced Jones to two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. Jones was also ordered to pay more than $5,000 in restitution to help cover funeral costs for Michelle Ellis and Owen Ellis.
“I’m very happy with the sentence,” Cheryl Wahlgren, Michelle Ellis’ mother, said following the sentencing.
She added she is grateful the court process has finally ended.
“Domestic violence needs to stop,” she said.
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