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Bond increased in murder case

HARTINGTON — A Laurel man accused of murdering four people had his bond increased at his first hearing in Cedar County Court here Wednesday afternoon.

Judge Douglas Luebbe had previously set bond for Jason A. Jones, 42, at $5 million but re-set the bond at no bond.

Corey O’Brien of the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office indicated Jones was not only a danger to others but also himself with evidence that selfharm was a part of his alleged crimes. He is accused of four counts of first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree arson, and four counts of use of a firearm to commit a felony in the Aug. 4 deaths of his neighbors, Michele Shankles-Ebeling, 53; Gene Twiford, 86; Janet Twiford, 85; and Dana Twiford, 55.

First responders were called to 209 Elm St. in Laurel around 3 a.m., Aug. 4, to the report of an explosion and house fire, finding Michele Shankles-Ebeling, 53, deceased. About five hours later, local law enforcement on scene noticed smoke coming from a home a few blocks away at 503 Elm St.

Gene Twiford, his wife, Janet, and their daughter, Dana were found to be deceased at that home.

All of the victims were found with what appeared to be gunshot wounds, according to court documents.

Law enforcement were able to get a search warrant of the Ebeling home and found a red fuel container inside the front door and noticed a trail indicating the use of accelerants to help ignite the fire. A backpack was also found, containing receipts that led back to Jones.

Investigators said it appeared access to the Twiford home was gained by a pry bar. A firearm was found on the living room floor, along with an incendiary device, according to court documents.

In the early morning hours of Aug. 5, the Nebraska State Patrol SWAT Team found Jones with significant burns while they were serving a warrant at his home in Laurel. Jones was transported to CHI St. Elizabeth Burn Center where he received treatment until his release Oct. 27.

At last week’s hearing, Jones appeared via video conferencing in a brown Corrections-issued uniform and confined to a wheelchair. He listened and responded appropriately as Luebbe reviewed his rights in the case alongside his court-appointed attorneys, Todd Lancaster and Matt McDonald of the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy.

If convicted, Jones will face a minimum of life in prison and a maximum sentence of death. A preliminary hearing in the case was set for Wednesday, Dec. 7.

The county court case was moved to be held in the Cedar County District Court room to accommodate those attending. About 15 from the public attended the hearing and 10 media representatives. The Cedar County Sheriff’s Office provided wand metal detection upon entry to the courtroom.

The case will be prosecuted by the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office with assistance from Cedar County Attorney Nick Matney.