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Donnie Jones pleaded guilty to first-degree murder Monday morning in the death of 24-year-old Tullahoma resident Megan Sharpton, a former resident of Fayetteville.
By striking the plea bargain with prosecutors, Jones avoids the death penalty and will instead serve life without parole.
Jones, 37, was charged with first-degree murder, rape and two counts of aggravated kidnapping last November after a grand jury in Franklin County handed up an indictment. He originally pleaded not guilty to those charges during an appearance before Franklin County Court Judge Buddy Perry days after his arrest.
Although the charges against Jones were eligible for the death penalty, prosecutors never publicly stated whether or not they planned to seek the punishment. Franklin County District Attorney Mike Taylor opted to delay that decision until the mental evaluation of Jones ordered in December by Circuit Court Judge Thomas Graham had been completed.
Before charging Jones with Sharpton’s rape and murder, authorities executed a search warrant at Jones’ Tullahoma home in late September and found a rifle. Because Jones had prior felony convictions for aggravated burglary, aggravated assault, forgery and escape, he was subsequently arrested on a weapons charge.
Sharpton was studying to be a nurse at Shelbyville Technical School and waiting tables at a local restaurant at the time of her death. Her partially burned body was discovered on July 2, 2012 on the side of Awalt Road by a passing motorist who initially thought he’d happened upon a grass fire. An autopsy revealed Sharpton died as the result of blunt-force trauma. Her 1995 Red Ford Mustang was found later that day abandoned in the road near Three Forks Bridge in Bedford County, roughly 20 miles from where he body was discovered. Her purse was recovered two days later in a creek in Estill Springs.