Murder hearing halts for a black eye

A Modesto man was expected to take the witness stand Friday to explain the stress he was under during repeated interviews with investigators who didn't believe he had panicked and buried the body of a roommate he said he found dead on the bathroom floor.

Instead, Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Marie Silveira called a temporary halt to a proceeding that began Monday so Russell Jones could recover from wounds inflicted by fellow inmates in the jail Thursday night.

Jones, 49, had a black eye but walked to and from the courtroom, escorted by bailiffs, carrying a notepad he has been using to take notes.

His attorney said Jones spent the night at the hospital, had not gotten much sleep and was not in the proper state of mind to defend himself against murder charges. The hearing is needed so the judge can determine if Jones should be held for trial.

"He's had approximately an hour, hour and a half to sleep," defense at- torney Frank Carson told the court. "He's not in a good enough condition."

Jones is suspected in the death of Dena Raley-McCluskey, whose body was unearthed in a shallow grave in Tuolumne County on Nov. 1, 2007. He has pleaded not guilty and is being held in lieu of $2 million bail.

Raley-McCluskey was last seen by her family Oct. 10, 1999, when she helped an aunt move. Jones became the prime suspect eight years later when a detective decided to take another crack at the case by interviewing Jones, who had declined to take a polygraph test years earlier.

A murder case took shape within weeks.

Jones seemed too nervous to be innocent when a sergeant contacted him Oct. 23, 2007, so the investigator decided to pursue the matter further, befriending Jones to gain his trust, according to prosecution testimony this week.

Admits burying body

In a series of interviews recounted by authorities in court, Jones said he found Raley-McCluskey's body on the bathroom floor of a home they shared on Karen Way, panicked because he had served time for violating federal weapons laws and didn't think anyone would believe he didn't kill her, according to testimony.

Jones admitted burying her body on property his parents owned near Groveland, and pointed out the spot to authorities after the district attorney's office wrote a letter saying Jones would be viewed as a cooperative witness unless authorities developed evidence that he killed Raley-McCluskey.

After days of questioning, Jones told detectives he sent the small woman crashing to the floor with a single punch at the end of a long day of drinking, after they argued over the cost of their bar bill.

Later, Jones told a detective that he helped Raley-McCluskey to the bathroom so she could clean up blood on her head. He said she fell to the floor, where he let her stay to sleep off the alcohol.

The next morning, Jones decided to tell no one and bury her body. Raley-McCluskey's skeleton was found Nov. 1, 2007, after several days of digging, and Jones was arrested on suspicion of murder.

Carson wants the court to suppress Jones' confession, saying it was coerced by authorities who made false promises. Jones is expected to testify about his state of mind, to show that he was under duress when he agreed to repeated interviews with the police.

News of Jones' injuries prompted a war of words in court.

Carson took issue with authorities failing to protect his client while in custody. Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees took issue with Carson's commentary, saying Carson wrongly suggested she was amused to learn Jones had been assaulted.

The judge, who called a recess so both sides could simmer down, said the lawyers had strayed from the professional demeanor they typically exhibit in court.

The hearing resumes July 20.

"I expect that the case will go forward and get back to the professional manner that is expected of both sides, and that Mr. Jones will be safe in custody," Silveira said.

Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at or 578-2338.

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