CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CN) — New charges brought against the University of Virginia student accused of killing three classmates and injuring two others enhance his second-degree murder charges to aggravated murder.
Albemarle County Circuit Court Judge Claude Worrell relayed the new charges to Christopher Darnell Jones Jr. via video feed to Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail Friday morning, following a decision Wednesday by a special grand jury, empaneled in May, to bring the 13 new counts.
Jones allegedly opened fire on classmates on a charter bus returning from a field trip in Washington. A former football walk-on, Jones targeted UVA football players and fellow student Marlee Morgan.
The special jury charged Jones with six counts of aggravated murder for the slayings of UVA football players Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis and D'Sean Perry. Three of the six charges are for the willful, deliberate and premeditated killing of more than one person as a part of the same act or transaction, while the other three are for the willful, deliberate and premeditated killing of more than one person within a three-year period.
"These alternate theories of guilt with different elements give the commonwealth the widest latitude in presenting evidence, but ultimately, the commonwealth is seeking three convictions of aggravated murder, not six," the office of Albemarle's commonwealth attorney clarified in a statement.
Virginia abolished the death penalty in 2021 and renamed capital murder charges, which included multiple-death homicides, to aggravated murder. A life sentence is mandatory if convicted of Class 1 felony aggravated murder, while second-degree murder offers the chance of parole.
The malicious wounding charges for the shootings of Morgan and football player Mike Hollins is now upgraded to aggravated malicious wounding; the new wounding charges are Class 2 felony offenses punishable by 20 years to life imprisonment.
And the five additional new charges are for a unlawfully using or displaying a firearm while committing a felony. The first conviction of the firearm charge is an unclassified felony punishable by a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment of three years, while subsequent convictions are punishable by mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment of five years.
Police apprehended Jones the morning of Nov. 14, 2022, nearly 80 miles from campus in his home county of Henrico, Virginia, outside of Richmond after an over 12-hour search.
Jones had been on authorities' radar before the killings after a classmate told school staff in September of the same year that Jones possessed a gun. While investigating the September incident, the school discovered Jones had a 2021 misdemeanor concealed weapon violation conviction.
The new indictments come one day before UVA hosts its home football opener against James Madison. The sure-to-be emotional day will be the first time the Hoos have played in Charlottesville after suspending their season last November.
Hollins, a running back, marked his return to the football field against Tennessee on Sept. 1, a little over nine months after witnessing the death of three teammates and suffering a gunshot wound to the abdomen.
The Charlottesville Albemarle public defender office is representing Jones. The court has scheduled a status review for Oct. 2.
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