Legal expert: Captivity victim's death not enough to charge suspect with murder

July 31, 2013 4:31:10 PM PDT
It was a shocking discovery; three men being held against their will in a north Houston home. One of them has now died but the suspect accused of holding them in what's described as "dungeon"-like conditions will not face upgraded charges.

Right now, Walter Jones is charged with two counts of injury to the elderly but the district attorney says it may not make sense to elevate those charges.

Police called it a prison house. Three men were allegedly living against their will in a filthy converted garage apartment, forced to hand over government assistance checks.

The victims were so malnourished, so sick that they had to wheeled out of the home.

Jones is accused of keeping them captive and abusing them.

"On one occasion, he used his own walking cane to beat him until into unconsciousness. When the complainant awoke, part of his finger was gone," a prosecutor said in court.

That man, 79-year-old William Greenawalt, died on Thursday and an autopsy to determine his cause of death is still pending.

But Wednesday, the Harris County District Attorney's Office says Jones won't be charged with murder.

"I don't think the public should feel betrayed by the DA's office because they're not going for the murder. They're going to get the same amount of time," KTRK legal analyst Joel Androphy said.

Jones has been charged with two counts of injury to the elderly. It may not sound as harsh as a murder charge, but it's a first-degree felony, with a punishment range of five years to life in prison.

"In situations like the elderly and children, you have the higher degree of penalty whether the person dies or not, so in many respects, the law, the legislature, is sending a message," Androphy said.

Androphy says it would be unnecessarily risky to charge Jones with murder.

"They're going to have to get a doctor to testify that the initial injuries were significant enough to cause the person's death," he said. "They're going to have to elevate their game and get more testimony and why? You're going to get life for somebody like this."

We've reached out to Jones' attorney but have not heard back. Jones is being held at the Harris County Jail on a $400,000 bond.

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