A Hanford man was found not guilty this week of murdering another man whose body was found riddled with bullets in a Kings County slough in February 2015.
If he had been convicted, Ralph Waldo Jones, 42, faced life in prison without possibility of parole, but he is now free, Fresno defense attorney Linden Lindahl said Thursday.
Jones was charged in Kings County Superior Court with murder in the slaying of Brandon Mims, 24, of Hanford, whose body was discovered on the Santa Rosa Rancheria near 15th Avenue southeast of Lemoore on Feb. 12, 2015. Jones also had faced the special allegation of lying in wait to commit the murder.
He’s home now with his family.
Fresno defense lawyer Linden Lindahl
On Monday, after five hours of deliberations, the jury found Jones not guilty of all of the charges, including first-degree murder, second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
“He’s home now with his family,” Lindahl said, noting that Jones is married with eight children.
Kings County District Attorney Keith Fagundes said Thursday evening that he stands behind the filing of the murder charge. He also said there was ample evidence to convict Jones of aiding and abetting in the murder.
Mims was shot at least two dozen times, authorities said. His killing put a spotlight on the Santa Rosa Rancheria, which is the home of the Tachi Yokut Tribe, owners of the Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino in Lemoore.
Soon after the killing, Kings County sheriff’s officials identified Rolando Lino Thomas, 22, of Lemoore, and Jones as suspects.
In August 2015, sheriff’s deputies arrested Jones in Hanford after a long standoff. Thomas, a Tachi tribal member who is accused of being the shooter, has never been found.
During a six-day trial this month, prosecutors contended that Jones helped carry out the murder that investigators believed involved drugs, an unpaid debt, and a relationship gone bad between the two suspects and Mims.
Jones was defended by Lindahl and Hanford attorney Casey Martin.
The killing put a spotlight on the Santa Rosa Rancheria, which is the home of the Tachi Yokut Tribe, owners of the Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino in Lemoore.
Lindahl said Thursday that the key evidence in the trial was Jones’ cellphone, which had text messages to Thomas. The messages told Thomas when Mims would be at Jones’ home alone and unarmed, Lindahl said.
The defense attorneys, however, argued that Jones left his cellphone in a dwelling behind his Hanford home that he allowed his friends and associates to use.
In addition, Mims had a criminal history and was required to wear an ankle monitor so law enforcement could track his whereabouts, Lindahl said.
“The evidence revealed that the victim was at Jones’ home, but was picked up by Thomas,” Lindahl said. Later, security cameras at the rancheria showed a car with Thomas, Mims and another passenger named Loren Jeff, 21, of the Santa Rosa Rancheria.
Lindahl said Jeff spoke with detectives and was subpoenaed to be a witness at Jones’ trial. But he was fatally shot Sept. 25. A few days later, sheriff's deputies arrested Justin James Jeff, 23, on suspicion of murdering his cousin. At the time, Assistant Sheriff Dave Putnam said Loren Jeff’s body was discovered just blocks away from the Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino. Justin Jeff was arrested during a traffic stop, he said.
Lindahl said Jones testified in his trial that he was a friend of Mims and had no reason to kill him. He also testified that he never met Thomas. The defense lawyers also called witnesses who testified that they saw other people use Jones’ cellphone.
“He’s glad it’s over,” Lindhal said Thursday. “He’s planning on moving away from Hanford.”