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Verbal harassment is motive for murder

Murder trial

HARTINGTON - Carrie Jones was allegedly being verbally harassed by Gene Twiford for years. She wanted her husband, Jason, to take action. And if he didn’t, she would.

“She makes it pretty clear that she had specific intent to kill him to get rid of the problem and the problem was Gene Twiford to stop harassing her verbally,” said Prosecutor Corey O’Brien of the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office. “Frankly, the evidence seems to suggest, but for Carrie Jones and her grievance with Gene Twiford, Jason Jones had little reason to want to do anything to Gene Twiford. Does the crime even occur were it not for her encouragement, her provocation?”

This potential motive and many other investigative details were revealed at a preliminary hearing in Cedar County Court Wednesday in which Carrie Jones, 43, faces charges related to the murder of Gene Twiford and her role in allegedly aiding and abetting, and tampering with evidence in the murders of Gene, and his wife, Janet, and their daughter, Dana, along with Michele Shankles-Ebeling, in Laurel Aug. 4, 2022.

Jason Jones, 42, is accused of four counts of murder and four counts of arson along with numerous weapons charges.

O’Brien said the four-hour preliminary hearing Wednesday was the longest of his career. Preliminary hearings are used to determine if there’s enough probable cause to bound the charges over to district court. 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.

“Nebraska law does not require someone to actually be present and commit a physical act in order to be guilty. … Instigating someone and encouraging someone is sufficient,” he said.

At the conclusion of Wednesday’s hearing, Judge Douglas Luebe ruled the state had met its burden of proof and there was probable cause to bound the case over to district court. Arraignment was set for Feb. 27.

Much of Wednesday’s testimony came from investigators in the case who detailed their conversations and interviews with Carrie Jones and their work at the crime scene.

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. Although the presence of smoke wasn’t evident for several hours, evidence suggests the Twiford fire actually started first.

The Twiford home surveillance system did not take any actual recordings but was alerted to movement at 3:02 a.m. Aug. 4. A clock stopped due to the immersion of fire at 3:04 a.m. and the first 911 call came in at 3:11 a.m.

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 Oct. 27 to the Nebraska Department of Corrections.

A dozen exhibits were entered into evidence Wednesday including pictures of Jason Jones’ burn injuries. Gas cans found at the two crime scenes and a backpack with receipts traced back to Jason Jones helped connect the dots that led to his arrest.

When initially questioned by Laurel Police Chief Ron Lundahl, Carrie Jones had said she had witnessed an orange glow at the Ebeling house across the street, went over to the border of the house, saw flames and ran back to her own house. In the two-minute audio recording, Jones could be heard yawning and saying she was ready to go to bed.

Carrie Jones never told Lundahl she’d seen her husband at the residence nor did she say her husband had any injuries, said Tim Dogett of the Nebraska State Patrol.

She maintained that she believed her husband was injured after attempting to render aid at the Ebeling home that morning.

“She said that she had to peel clothing off of him because of the way it had been burnt,” said Tony Kavan of the Nebraska State Patrol, saying she had put his clothing and boots in a bag. Jason Jones handed his wife a .44-caliber handgun and told her to put it away. She didn’t question why he had the gun, she told Kavan, but bandaged his wounds the best she could. She asked her husband if he wanted her to call someone for assistance with his wounds but he declined, and the couple went to sleep.

“The next morning, she described the state of his skin as being gooey and that he had been in and out of consciousness,” Kavan said. When pressed as to why she didn’t take him to the hospital, Jones told Kavan “she couldn’t force somebody to go to the doctor if they didn’t want to.”

The bag of clothing was never recovered by law enforcement even after two search warrants were executed at the Jones’ home. Carrie initially said she did not know where it went until the Dec. 8 interview with Higgins where she said she threw it out.

When she learned of her husband’s arrest, Carrie acted surprised, Kavan said. In those early interviews, she also never indicated there was trouble with any of the neighbors and said that Joneses stuck to themselves.

Another recording of Lundahl talking to two other neighbors was played during the hearing with one of the neighbors indicating he saw both of the Joneses running from the Ebeling home after an explosion and the house started on fire.

Carrie Jones was not seen in any surveillance videos or connected to the purchase of gas cans or gas, Dogett said. And it was confirmed she was at work at the time the murders were committed, he said.

She also was not at home when the SWAT team arrived to arrest her husband. Instead, she was talking with investigators at a Laurel convenience store. There was no evidence that Carrie had received any burn injuries.

It wasn’t until Sgt. Brad Higgins’ follow-up interview of Carrie on Dec. 8 that she changed her account of the events leading up to , and the day of the murders which ultimately led to her own arrest. The new version of events included information which indicated Carrie had allegedly been harassed by Gene Twiford for several years with him driving by her home and making suggestive comments about bending over in shorts.

She told her husband, “This (expletive) has gotta stop or I’m going to kill him.”

Investigators verified that comments had been overheard by witnesses at at least two public places in Laurel in which Twiford was asked to leave. The harassment never turned physical, Carrie Jones said, and she never gave a specific number of times the suggestive comments were made, just over a period of three years, Higgins said.

“She was offended by the comments. She didn’t like them and thought something had to be done to put a stop to it.”

The situation came to a head when the Joneses argued Aug. 3. She blamed him for not doing anything about the harassment, being gone too much and not being around to protect her. She accused of him of cheating and watching pornography.

She put a handgun to Jason’s head and knife to his throat. “She wanted to get him to react. She wanted him to feel something and know that she was hurting,” Higgins said.

So when she arrived home from work around 3 a.m. on Aug. 4 to find the door to the garage open her first thought was fear that Jason had committed suicide. When she didn’t find him there, Carrie went inside but didn’t see him there, either.

She heard three gunshots, went outside and saw someone stumbling from the side door of the Ebeling home across the street. She realized it was her husband and helped him into the house, helped him take off his clothes and get into the bathtub. She put the gun away and bagged the clothes. She took care of his wounds and when they laid in bed that night, Jones confessed to shooting Ebeling and “double-tapping” Gene Twiford but he ran into some problems at the Twiford home - the Twifords’ security door and also the addition of Janet and Dana at the home, which he hadn’t expected.

“It was supposed to be done before I ever got home from work,”

Carrie Jones told Higgins that she had pushed her husband too far and she repeated over and over that she should’ve done it herself.

“She started to get emotional. There was a change in her voice,” Higgins said when Carrie talked about her husband but she never shed any tears that he recalled. But as far as any remorse for Gene Twiford, there wasn’t any.

“She said, ‘The old man got what he deserved. He should’ve knocked off the harassment,’” Higgins said.

Carrie Jones was not immediately arrested after that interview because investigators wanted to gain additional information from reviewing the Jones’ electronic devices and phones that were seized.

A series of text messages in March and April 2022 between the couple indicate Carrie wanting Jason to track down Twiford and confront him about the harassment, giving him locations to check. According to an analysis of Jason’s phone, a path of travel at that time indicated he was trying to locate Twiford in Laurel.

Those messages were later deleted from Carrie Jones’ phone.

Another message from Carrie to Jason suggested that she undergo sniper training to shoot Gene Twiford with a rifle.