The second day of a preliminary hearing in a murder case in the death of Dena Raley-McCluskey, who was missing for eight years before her body was unearthed from a shallow grave near Groveland, included a lengthy cross-examination of a police sergeant who closed the cold case.
Sgt. Craig Plante, whose testimony began Monday in Stanislaus County Superior Court and filled most of Tuesday, repeatedly deflected defense questions aimed at suggesting that he tricked Russell Jones into cooperating with authorities.
Next, Detective Philip Owen described his efforts to secure the crime scene at 20285 White Gulch Road in Tuolumne County, detailing a dig that was monitored by a forensic anthropologist.
The hearing is expected to conclude today. After the hearing, Judge Marie Silveira will decide if Jones, 49, should be held for trial on murder charges.
He has pleaded not guilty and is being held in lieu of $2 million bail.
Raley-McCluskey, 36, was last seen Oct. 10, 1999, when she visited an aunt. She rented a room in Jones' Modesto home for about two years.
The early investigation focused on her boyfriend, but Plante decided to make inquiries about Jones because he had refused to take a polygraph test years earlier.
The sergeant told the court that Jones' story evolved during a series of interviews that began Oct. 23, 2007, and ended with his arrest Nov. 1, 2007. According to Plante, Jones initially denied any involvement in Raley-McCluskey's death, later said he panicked and buried her body when he found her dead, and in the end said he punched her after an argument.