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Documents filed in court prior to hearing in Laurel murder case

HARTINGTON  — New information has been filed in the case against a Laurel man accused of murdering four of his neighbors ahead of his next court appearance Monday.

The State Attorney General’s Office filed an updated complaint Tuesday in Cedar County District Court against Jason A. Jones, 42, that also lists aggravating factors with each charge stemming from the deaths of Michele Shankles-Ebeling, Gene Twiford, Janet Twiford and Dana Twiford on Aug. 4. 

He’s charged with four counts of first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree arson, and four counts of use of a firearm to commit a felony. The murder charges carry a minimum punishment of life imprisonment and a maximum penalty of death. 

In the complaint, Corey O’Brien noted that evidence would be put forth indicating Jones killed the Twifords in the act or attempted act of burglary at their home at 509 Elm St. in Laurel. The other murder cases were listed as aggravating circumstances. 

More than 175 witnesses were listed in the complaint with the majority of them consisting of first responders on Aug. 4. The Nebraska State Patrol was the lead investigative agency. 

Additional court documents have also been filed against Jason Jones’ wife, Carrie Jones. 43, of Laurel, for her alleged role in the crimes. She faces one count of first-degree murder, tampering with evidence and accessory to a felony. 

Mrs. Jones’ attorney, Doug Stratton, Norfolk, requested a preliminary hearing be held in the case as she had not been given that opportunity when her case was filed directly in district court. He also requested that his son, Nathan Stratton, be appointed as co-counsel. 

Both of the Joneses were set to appear in court on Monday. 

On Aug. 4, first responders were called to Shankles-Ebeling’s home at 209 Elm St. in Laurel around 3 a.m. to the report of an explosion and house fire. She was found deceased. 

About five hours later, local law enforcement on scene noticed smoke coming from the Twiford home just a few blocks away, where all three Twifords were found deceased at that time.

Law enforcement was 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 Mr. 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.

All of the victims were found to have gunshot wounds. 

Jones was apprehended at his home the morning after the murders with severe burns over his body and was treated at a Lincoln hospital for several weeks before being released to the Department of Corrections Oct. 27. 

Mrs. Jones was arrested in connection with the crimes Dec. 16. 

According to court documents, a neighbor told investigators he had gone outside his home in the early morning hours of Aug. 4 to smoke a cigarette when he witnessed an explosion occur at the Ebeling home. He ran to the nearby home in an attempt to render aid, when he made contact with Carrie Jones at the property. Mrs. Jones allegedly admitted to Laurel Police Chief Ron Lundahl of being at the Ebeling residence that morning. 

Her cellphone was searched in August but no charges were filed against her until last month.