Justin Leonard Jones’s 15-year prison sentence was slashed by more than half just 16 days after he pleaded guilty in front of Judge L. Casey Manning in South Carolina’s Fifth Circuit. Manning, who accepted the plea and sentenced Jones on Dec. 12, 2022, reversed himself and signed an order reducing the sentence to just six years on Dec. 28.
Jones, a client of high-powered defense lawyer and South Carolina state legislator Todd Rutherford, received the 15-year sentence after pleading guilty to second degree burglary, attempted murder, carrying a prohibited weapon, and two separate drug charges. 15 years is half of the state maximum for attempted murder in South Carolina.
As Luna Shark Media began to investigate this story, we learned from an official who works for the Richland County Court that there was no formal hearing prior to Manning signing off on the Dec. 28 sentence reduction. While there is no requirement to have a formal hearing, there is a victims’ bill of rights that includes the rights of all victims to:
- be heard at any proceeding involving a post-arrest release decision, a plea, or sentencing;
- confer with the prosecution, after the crime against the victim has been charged, before the trial or before any disposition and informed of the disposition
We have reached out to the office of Fifth Circuit Solicitor Byron Gipson to confirm whether or not the victims were notified that Jones’s sentence was immediately reduced, but we have not received a reply to our inquiry.
Jones, now 29, has a criminal history that dates back to his teenage years, and reports indicate he already had one prison stint under his belt prior to pleading guilty to those five charges in Judge Manning’s court on December 12. Those charges stem from an April 2021 incident in which he shot a victim in the back while he was on bond and being supervised.
Jones’ plea came the day after Judge Manning was honored at a large retirement party attended by South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster — a former federal prosecutor — as well as current fifth circuit solicitor Byron Gipson, various state judges, and scores of other guests, according to an article by John Monk in The State newspaper.
Rutherford filed the motion to reconsider Jones’ sentence on Dec. 14 saying that there was more information to share when the matter was heard in court, There was, however, no hearing.
Instead, Manning signed an order reducing Jones’ sentence on Dec. 28 and cited just two facts:
- That the defendant pleaded guilty to Burglary 2nd Degree, Attempted Murder, Unlawful Carrying of a Pistol, and Manufacturing and Possession of Drugs on December 12, 2022
- That the Defendant was sentenced to fifteen years in prison by the Honorable L. Casey Manning.
With that, Manning slashed Jones’s sentence by more than half, leaving him with a six year sentence and a projected release date of June 2, 2026.
This leaves several unanswered questions:
- Why didn’t Manning sentence Jones to six years in the first place?
- Couldn’t the motion to reduce the sentence have happened in front of incoming 5th circuit judge Daniel Coble sometime in 2023?
- Why didn’t Manning deny the motion and force Rutherford to file a motion to withdraw the plea and allow the case to go to trial?
- Were the victims in this case even notified that reducing Jones’s sentence was a possibility?
- Why is the system choosing to give this guy a break vs everyone else?
- What about the victim who was shot in the back? Were they notified of Price’s sentence reduction? If not, was his sentence reduction illegal?
This case appears to echo the Jeroid Price case, in which a man—also represented by Todd Rutherford—convicted of murder was released from prison more than 16 years early after Judge Casey Manning granted him early release and then sealed the order on Dec. 28 — the same day that he reduced Jones’s sentence from 15 years to six.
The other question that arises from the Price and Jones sentence reductions is whether or not there are other questionable rulings from Manning’s time on the bench, so the team at Luna Shark began trying to find a docket for Manning’s court dates back in early May, but there was a problem — none of the four offices we called were able to produce a docket for us, and the Public Index does not allow you to search for court actions by a particular judge.
Eventually, we discovered a way to sort through the court data based on the court reporters’ schedules and zeroed in on Manning’s December 2022 court dates. It turns out that Jones wasn’t Rutherford’s only client in front of Manning on Dec. 12. There were actually three more who entered guilty pleas: Tyreke Leroi Floyd, Keith Brook Armour, and Dominick Maurice Booker.
You can expect more details on those cases in upcoming episodes of True Sunlight and future articles for our premium members.
Justin Jones Full SCDC Report is below.
Contact Beth Braden
Beth Braden is an award-winning journalist whose mastery of the deep dive is evident in her work.
In addition to Braden’s experience writing about local government, crime and courts, and engaging features from her home state of Tennessee, her byline appears on several internationally-known websites. She is passionate about communicating complex information in an easy-to-understand manner and loves to pore over public records.
Braden joined Luna Shark Media in 2023 armed with a love of truth as she seeks out data from the darkest places, drags it into the light, and provides illuminating analysis. In her spare time, she enjoys quilting, strange museums, and good cups of coffee.
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