Confession induced, suspect says

Russell Jones testified he had a pounding headache from stints of early morning binge drinking.

He said police threatened to throw his parents and other family members in jail.

And Jones believed he was immune from prosecution after police told him he was a witness, not a suspect, in the death of his roommate, he testified Monday in Stanislaus County Superior Court.

If not for all of this, Jones said he never would have told police where to find the body of Dena Raley-McCluskey on his parents' property near Groveland.

"I was emotionally exhausted," Jones said.

The Modesto man took the stand Monday to explain the stress he was under during repeated interviews with investigators who didn't believe he had panicked and buried his roommate after finding her dead on the bathroom floor.

Jones, 49, was expected to testify June 26, but the hearing was halted so he could recover from wounds inflicted by fellow inmates in the jail, including a black eye.

Raley-McCluskey's body was unearthed in a shallow grave in Tuolumne County on Nov. 1, 2007. Jones 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.

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

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 looked at 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.

Jones' testimony will continue today at 10:30 a.m. At the end of the preliminary hearing, Judge Marie Silveira will decide if there is enough evidence for Jones to stand trial.

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at or 578-2337.

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