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Man sentenced to life for Harpers Ferry shooting

James Robert Jones apologizes to victim's family druing hearing

James Robert Jones apologizes to victim's family druing hearing

February 29, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. -- Rita Mihalik on Friday told the man who shot and killed her son in December 2006 at a Harpers Ferry, W.Va., bar that he broke her heart, but she said she prayed that God would "touch" his heart and help him turn his life around.

"I think this is the worst pain a mother can go through," a tearful Mihalik said at the sentencing hearing in Jefferson County Circuit Court for James Robert Jones, 26, of 180 Campground Road.

Jones in January entered guilty pleas under Alford circumstances to first-degree murder in the shooting death of Michael Mihalik, 26, two counts of malicious assault and six counts of wanton endangerment with a firearm. The circumstances of the plea meant that Jones didn't contest the state's case against him.

As part of the binding plea agreement, Jones was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after serving at least 15 years for the murder conviction.

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Five-year sentences for four counts of wanton endangerment will be served consecutively in addition to the life sentence, according to the conviction order signed by 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge David H. Sanders.

Remaining penalties for two counts of wanton endangerment and two- to 10-year prison terms for the malicious assault counts will be serve concurrently with the other penalties.

Michael Mihalik, of Harpers Ferry, died of a single gunshot wound to the chest when Jones entered the Cliffside Bar and Grill at the Quality Inn off U.S. 340 and opened fire with a 9 mm semiautomatic handgun, police said. Mihalik was a bartender there.

When given the opportunity to address the court and the victim's family Friday, Jones stood from his chair at the defendant's table and turned toward them to say he knew he had done wrong and apologized.

"I am very, very, very sorry for what I've done to you," Jones said.

The defendant said he hoped the family would be able to forgive him in 20 to 40 years and said he entered the guilty pleas so Mihalik's family would not have to endure a trial.

Though now destitute, Jones said he was "repentant" and willing to pay restitution to the family, who later indicated to the court they had not sought any.

Jones acknowledged his diagnosed mental health issues, which were a focal point of the case.

In her statement to the court, Mihalik's sister, Michelle Mihalik, told Jones that her brother was in no way responsible for his "troubles."

"I know in my heart Michael would forgive you for what you did," she said. "I'm not sure I ever can."

Defense attorney Aaron C. Amore had planned to argue that Jones had a diminished mental capacity at the time of the shooting and was unable to form the requisite intent for premeditation or malice necessary for a first-degree murder conviction.

"I think we got to the right place through all those turns," Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Larry Crofford said of the mental illness defense, which led to a number of pretrial hearings and trial delays. "I'm satisfied with the outcome."

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