MOUNT VERNON, Ohio » A man whose ex-girlfriend told police he left her house “looking to kill a cop” was charged today in the January death of an Ohio officer who was shot in the head, and the suspect could face the death penalty if convicted.
A Knox County grand jury indicted Herschel Ray Jones III on 10 counts, half of them linked to the slaying of 34-year-old Officer Thomas Cottrell in Danville. His body was found behind the village’s municipal building late Jan. 17, shortly after Jones’ ex-girlfriend warned police that he was armed and might be targeting an officer.
Prosecutor Chip McConville said Jones apparently will be represented by a public defender, who didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment. McConville said he anticipates the defense will request that Jones undergo a mental competency evaluation.
McConville declined to discuss what communication investigators have had with Jones or a possible motive for the shooting.
“I don’t know, and I’m not going to speculate,” he said.
Besides aggravated murder, Jones also is charged with misdemeanor assault of his ex-girlfriend and aggravated burglary, kidnapping and grand theft from a home about two months before the shooting. Investigators say Cottrell was shot with a pistol stolen in that November burglary, which involved a masked intruder who restrained a victim with tape.
Jones allegedly took Cottrell’s firearm and police cruiser and some of his clothing, which investigators believe was burned. Jones, 32, was spotted running from a home after the shooting and was arrested after a short foot chase, police said.
Dispatchers had tried to make contact with Cottrell after receiving the tip from Jones’ ex-girlfriend, but they couldn’t reach him. It’s likely Cottrell was killed before the call went out, McConville said Monday.
Investigators wouldn’t discuss their timeline of what happened in detail but acknowledged there are indications that the shooting was premeditated.
“It’s very disturbing. The last thing we want is for public safety people to be targeted,” said Special Agent Eric Lehnhart of the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
Officials said Cottrell was an auxiliary officer who mainly worked weekends in Danville, about 50 miles northeast of Columbus. He was hired by the police department a few months ago and worked full-time as a mixer driver for a concrete company in Mount Vernon.
Before the indictment, Jones’ father told The Columbus Dispatch that his youngest son was loving and kind when he wasn’t using drugs. Herschel Jones Jr. said that when his son called him the day after the shooting and asked why he’d been jailed, he explained that his son had killed an officer.
His son’s reply, he said, was: “So you’re saying I killed a cop. If I did, I’m telling you right now I’m not doing life in prison.”
Jones has a lengthy criminal history and in one case tried to claim he was legally insane, according to court records. Jones has multiple convictions for breaking and entering, burglary, receiving stolen property and carrying a concealed weapon dating back to 2001. In a 2011 case, he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity before changing his plea to guilty.
Ohio prison records showed Jones served nearly four years for the 2011 convictions on charges of receiving stolen property and possession of chemicals for manufacture of drugs. He was released in April.
His parole officer has been put on paid administrative leave pending further review, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
A date for Jones’ first appearance on the new charges will be set by the court, McConville said.
Associated Press writer Mitch Stacy contributed to this report from Columbus, Ohio.