published Saturday, September 29th, 2012

'Person of interest' in slaying arrested

Donnie Jones
Donnie Jones
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The man authorities call a "person of interest" in the July slaying of Tullahoma, Tenn., nursing student Megan Sharpton was arrested on a gun charge after authorities searched his home in Coffee County on Thursday.

Donnie Frank Jones Jr. was arrested for being a convicted felon in possession of a rifle. The weapon was found during a search that also turned up evidence believed linked to the homicide, Franklin County Sheriff Tim Fuller said Friday.

Jones, 37, of 1912 Bel-Aire Drive in Tullahoma, was present during Thursday's search and was arrested about 5:30 p.m. CDT, Fuller said.

Jones is being held on $500,000 bond pending arraignment Monday, according to Capt. Frank Watkins with the sheriff's office.

The gun charge was filed in Coffee County in the 14th Judicial District. The homicide investigation is centered in Franklin County, where Sharpton's body was found, which is in District Attorney Mike Taylor's 12th Judicial District.

The burning body of Sharpton, 24, was found July 2 on Awalt Road near the bridge over Tims Ford Lake. A passing motorist had turned around after spotting what first was thought to be a grass fire.

Sharpton's 1995 Ford Mustang was discovered on Three Forks Bridge Road in Bedford County, 15 to 20 miles away, the same day her body was found.

Fuller confirmed Friday that authorities suspect Sharpton might have been sexually assaulted before she was killed. Early autopsy results indicated that she died of blunt force trauma.

Taylor and Fuller said they couldn't comment on whether the rifle was connected to Sharpton's slaying but noted that other items seized in the search have been sent to the TBI crime lab for analysis.

Taylor would not comment Friday on whether charges are pending in the homicide, but he said agents with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who participated in Thursday's search could file charges against Jones.

The sheriff said Jones' bond was set at $500,000 because of the ongoing homicide investigation and Jones' criminal history, which includes charges of aggravated burglary, aggravated assault, jail escape and forgery. He said Jones doesn't work and lives with his wife, who works in the medical field.

The victim's mother, Kelly Sharpton, said her daughter was acquainted with Jones' wife and had ridden with her to nursing classes "a time or two."

She said Friday she feels the community is safer, but she also believes her daughter's killer did not act alone. She said she'll continue to press Taylor for an arrest in her daughter's death.

"If I can keep one mother from crying the tears I've cried, it'll be worth it," she said.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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