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First defendant gets life sentence in brutal 2012 Upshur County slaying

By Sarah Thomas,
Oct. 30, 2013 at 6:54 a.m.

GILMER - Daniel Paul Jones sat staring at his lap as his victim's family described the pain he caused when he kidnapped, tortured and killed their loved one.

Jones, of Longview, appeared Wednesday morning in Upshur County's 115th District Court to accept a plea agreement that guarantees he'll spend the rest of his life behind bars, a sentence that for the 20-year-old could mean more than 70 years in a maximum security prison.

Investigators have said Jones, along with Sarah Haslam, 20, of Longview and Andrew Norwine, 21, of Arlington <a href="" target="_blank">robbed 27-year-old Ronnie Joe Gammage Jr.</a> and later kidnapped and beat the mentally disabled Longview man before slicing his throat and setting him on fire.

Gammage's family delivered tearful statements in front of a standing-room only crowd with Jones rarely making eye contact.

Gammage's brother Charles Ramsey - after needing a moment to compose himself - spoke first. He fought through tears to tell Jones how he ended a "good man's life" - a man who became friends with everyone he met.

"There's a lot of people out there who got the privilege to know R.J. and to know what kind of soul he had and still has," Ramsey said. "You've hurt this family more than you can imagine. Not to mention his friends. Not to mention how you've hurt your family. I'm sure they love you, and you've cheated them out of a lifetime of love and special events. Not to mention the kids you haven't had."

Tears occasionally fell from Jones' eyes as he listened.

Jones father is a Longview pastor. Ramsey said if Jones had been more like his father, Gammage would still be alive.

"I can only imagine what you could've become if you would've followed in your father's footsteps," Ramsey told the defendant. "I hope you think about what you've done for the rest of your life. I'm so mad and hurt and angry all at the same time. This was senseless."

Gammage's body <a href="" target="_blank">was found Dec. 19</a> in rural Upshur County after his mother <a href="" target="_blank">reported him missing Dec. 8</a>.

Upshur County District Attorney Billy Byrd never filed a motion seeking the death penalty, but it was a possibility under the circumstances of Gammage's death.

Byrd's office originally charged capital murder two ways: Jones killed Gammage in the course of kidnapping him and he killed Gammage in the course of committing robbery.

Under the plea agreement, Byrd abandoned the robbery part of the charges.

Shortly after Gammage was reported missing and while police were still looking for suspects, officials released a video showing four people in a car. Police said one of them attempted to cash a check on Gammage's account.

Gammage's mother, Frankie Ann Gammage, was forceful in her tone when she took the stand, even making Jones divert his stare from his lap to a large picture of her son that stood at the front of the courtroom.

She told Jones how pleased she was with the sentence because death "would be way too easy."

"Daniel Jones, you murdered and tortured my son," she said. "There was no reason for this. A human being could never do the things you did to another or to an animal. You're a demon, a demon of the devil. No creature of God could ever do this."

She continued as she fought back tears, telling Jones her son's death haunts her thoughts and how she wonders what her son was feeling and thinking the day he was killed.

"It never leaves my mind," she said, adding that she takes comfort in knowing she will one day be reunited with her son in heaven. "It's really sad that your parents aren't going to have that. You need to go to the deepest pits of Hell and burn for eternity."

Ronnie Gammage's sister Angela Dees also took the podium, telling Jones and the court she was pleased with the sentence because even though he will not be put to death by the state, he will still be serving a death sentence.

"I hold nothing but hatred toward you. ... I hope you endure the same (pain as my brother) where you are going so you have to endure the fear of maybe not seeing the light of the next day. Where you're going, life as you once knew it no longer exists," Dees said.

She described how close she was to her brother, how full of life he was and she echoed Ramsey's earlier testimony about how Ronnie Gammage had never met a stranger.

"His only fault in his life was trusting those he thought were his friends when they didn't deserve his friendship," Dees said.

Jones did not address Gammage's family or the court and only spoke twice - to say "guilty" when Judge Lauren Parish asked him to enter his plea and to say "yes ma'am" when she asked if he understood his plea agreement.

"Do you understand you are giving up your right to an appeal, meaning you would get a sentence of life in prison without parole and that you won't be able to do anything to change or alter that sentence?" Parish asked.

Byrd said Jones' sentence is a move toward fulfilling the promise his office made to the Gammage family at the start of the case.

"This was an absolute tragedy. There's no question in my mind that Ronnie Joe Gammage was a completely innocent victim, and that doesn't happen all the time in these cases. But he absolutely was innocent," he said. "We promised the family our very best efforts and we are continuing to deliver on that promise. This is one down and two to go."

The Upshur County Sheriff's Office had completed Jones' paperwork by Wednesday afternoon, he said, and the next step is to contact the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to let them know he is ready for transport.

Initially Jones will be placed in administrative segregation at a maximum security facility where he will not have contact with other inmates, Byrd said.

"At some point he will remain in the maximum security facility but be moved into a more general population setting," he added.

Haslam and Norwine, charged with capital murder by terror threat or other felony,  remain in the Upshur County Jail under $1.3 million bond each.

 - Follow Sarah Thomas on Twitter: @SarahLNJ

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