ATLANTA (AP) — A lawyer argued Monday that because of an error in an indictment the state should be prevented from seeking the death penalty for a man who killed his infant daughter and three of his ex-girlfriend’s relatives and then kidnapped the woman’s three surviving children.

Jerry William Jones’ lawyer, Jack Martin, told the Georgia Supreme Court that prosecutors failed to allege aggravating factors that would allow them to seek the death penalty for the 2004 northwest Georgia crime spree.

As a result, Martin said, the state should only be allowed to seek a sentence of life in prison for Jones, who has already pleaded guilty to the charges in the case.

“You may say this is a technicality. It is not,” Martin told the justices.

He argued that common law requires that the aggravating factors of the crime be stated in the indictment with “certainty and precision” for prosecutors to seek the death penalty.

“We don’t have that in this case,” Martin argued.

But special prosecutor Laura Murphree told the high court that the underlying issue Martin was raising has been made by lawyers in other cases and rejected before.

“This isn’t really a new argument,” Murphree said. “It’s draped in the common law theme for this case.”

Murphree said the state provided Jones with proper notice of its intent to seek the death penalty. She also argued that since Jones pleaded guilty, he effectively admitted to the aggravating circumstances that are implicit in the crime.

“He is eligible for the maximum penalty,” the prosecutor said.

Georgia law outlines nearly a dozen aggravating circumstances or factors that may be considered in imposing the death penalty. They can apply, for example, when a person commits murder while committing another capital felony or commits murder in such a vile way that the act involves torture or depravity of mind.

Sentencing for Jones has been put on hold while the state Supreme Court decides that issue and several others raised by the defense, including a challenge of a police search of Jones’ home that yielded a gun box and ammunition.

Police entered the home on a warrant related to an allegation that Jones violated his probation for a prior conviction by breaking his curfew. Martin argued that the evidence seized should be suppressed because once the police realized Jones wasn’t there, they should have left. Prosecutor Joe Campbell argued that the gun box was in plain view and, since Jones was a suspect in the killings at the time of the search, seizure of the ammunition was justified.

It could be up to a few months before the state’s high court reaches a decision.

If the justices find for the defense on the indictment issue, prosecutors would only be able to seek a life sentence for Jones. If they find for the defense on the search issue, prosecutors would not be able to use the evidence seized in Jones’ home against him during sentencing.

Jones has pleaded guilty to the Jan. 7, 2004, slayings of Tom and Nola Blaylock, their daughter Georgia Mae Bradley and Jones’ daughter, 10-month-old Jerri Jones.

The Blaylocks, who were shot, were the mother and stepfather of Melissa Peeler, Jones’ ex-girlfriend. Bradley and the infant were strangled with a cord.

Jones had a stormy six-year relationship with Peeler. Authorities and the victims’ relatives have said Jones’ jealousy over his belief that Peeler was visiting a new boyfriend in Oregon sparked the killings in Ranger, a tiny town about 55 miles north of Atlanta. Peeler has said she was in Oregon on business.

Police said that after the killings, Jones took off with Peeler’s three surviving children — two of them his own — and fled just over the state line into Tennessee, where he was caught after a car chase the next night. He shot himself in the face and spent months in a prison hospital. The three children were found unharmed.

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