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Intoxicated Driver Who Killed 2 Spared Death Penalty

May 07, 1997| Associated Press

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A driver who killed two college students with his car after drinking and taking drugs was sentenced to life in prison without parole Tuesday by a jury that rejected a prosecutor's plea for the death penalty.

Thomas Richard Jones, 39, was convicted of murder Friday in the deaths of two young women who were passengers in a car hit by his pickup truck Sept. 4. Four others in the car were injured.

Jurors deliberated about 70 minutes before sentencing Jones to two life sentences.

Under North Carolina law, anyone who kills another while committing a separate dangerous felony can be prosecuted for first-degree murder, punishable by the death penalty, whether the death was intentional or not.

Prosecutors said Jones committed two felonies--reckless driving while impaired and assault with a deadly weapon--and deserved to die.

It was apparently the first case in the nation in which prosecutors have pushed for the death penalty in a driving-while-impaired case. Prosecutors won murder convictions in similar trials in Washington state in 1996 and California in 1995, but declined to seek the death penalty.

In addition to the life sentences, the judge sentenced Jones to 120 days in jail for misdemeanor assault with a deadly weapon and 90 days for driving while impaired. The defense said it would appeal.

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