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Murder trial moved out of Cedar County

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Jones trial moved to Dakota County


HARTINGTON – The trial of a Laurel man charged with four counts of murder will be heard in Dakota County.

District Court Judge Bryan Meismer ruled the trial of Jason Jones, 44, Laurel, will change venue due to the amount of publicity in the case in relation to the size of the community involved.

Meismer cited a preliminary jury questionnaire which indicated the case remains fresh in the minds of residents even more than a year later.

Another factor the court considered is that Cedar County already held a jury trial for a major felony case this year which further complicates the task of accumulating a qualified jury pool.

Dakota County was chosen due to its reasonable distance from Cedar County and its similar population. Dakota County also has the appropriate facilities to seat the jury and conduct the trial set for September, Meismer said.

It is expected to last three weeks and the clerk of the Dakota County District Court was ordered to draw 180 names for the jury panel.

“While the case has certainly garnered media coverage in northeast Nebraska, Dakota County included, there has been less so in the Dakota County area, and the jury pool will not be drawn from the community where these alleged events occurred,” Meismer said in his order.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Jones in the deaths of his neighbors Gene Twiford, Janet Twiford, Dana Twiford and Michele Shankles-Ebeling in Laurel on Aug. 4, 2022.

First responders were called to Shankles-Ebeling’s home in Laurel, around 3 a.m. Aug. 4, 2022, 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.

In another order, Meismer ruled no evidence regarding Jones’ character will be allowed without it first being presented outside the presence of a jury to determine relevance. He also ruled prosecutors will be given “minimal latitude” in painting a picture of victims’ character traits.

Jones’ next court date was set for a status hearing May 28.

His wife, Carrie Jones, is also accused of the murder of Gene Twiford,  tampering with evidence and accessory to a felony.

While Jason Jones is considered the principal offender, under Nebraska statutes, Carrie Jones can be found guilty as well if she aided and encouraged him to carry out the killing, according to the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office.