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Judge rules against defense death penalty motion

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Trisha Benton

Cedar County News

HARTINGTON - A Cedar County District Court judge dismissed a Laurel man’s motion to quash sections of the death penalty in his case and his prosecution moves forward. 

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Jason Jones, 42, for the murders of Gene Twiford, Janet Twiford, Dana Twiford and Michele Shankles-Ebeling on Aug. 4, 2022, in Laurel. 

Jones’ lawyer, Todd Lancaster of the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy, filed a motion to quash sections of Nebraska’s death penalty as unconstitutional, and that matter was the subject of a February hearing. 

In the five-page ruling issued Thursday, Cedar County District Judge Bryan Meismer covers each of the defense claims, denying the motion to quash in its entirety and dismissing the motion. 

“At this time, the Court finds that the defendant has failed to meet the burden of proof that no set of circumstances exists under which the death penalty statues would be invalid or that the law is unconstitutional in all of its applications,” Meismer wrote. “Each of the grounds presented by the defendant have previously been addressed by the Nebraska Supreme Court.” 

Under Nebraska’s death penalty statutes, a jury must find one or more aggravating circumstances in order for a case to be considered by a three-judge panel for a potential sentence of the death penalty. If aggravators aren’t determined by the jury, the only sentence which can be imposed is life in prison without parole. 

Along with the dismissal, Meismer set Jones’ next court date - his arraignment - for May 22. 

Jones faces four counts of first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree arson and a number of weapons charges. 

First responders were called to Shankles-Ebeling’s home at 209 Elm St., Laurel, around 3 a.m. Aug. 4 to the report of an explosion and house fire. About five hours later, local law enforcement on scene noticed smoke coming from the Twiford home just a few blocks away. 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 Nebraska Department of Corrections Oct. 27. 

Jones’ wife, Carrie, is also facing a murder charge and other felonies for her alleged involvement in the crimes. Her next court appearance is set for April 17.