Chapel Hill Man Convicted of Murder, Sentenced to Life Without Parole
Posted November 13, 1996 12:00 a.m. EST
HILLSBOROUGH — It's unusual when a man pleads guilty to murder then strenuously maintains his innocence, but that's what happened Wednesday in Orange County Superior Court.
Stacey N. Jones of Chapel Hill was convicted of the murder of 24-year-old Heather Prather of Carrboro. Jones met Prather at a local gym. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Jones pleaded guilty to murder first-degree murder, he says, to avoid the death penalty, which District Attorney Carl Fox had said he would do. Jones said he felt there was no way for him to win.
But Fox, the district attorney, said evidence against Jones was overwhelming. Jones' baseball cap was found in Prather's Carrboro apartment, as were his bloody footprints. Also, Fox said, a neighbor heard Prather scream, "No, Stacey, no," on the night of the murder.
Prather's family and friends comforted each other after the sentencing, saddened over their loss. They said they were glad that Jones won't be eligible for parole.
Prather was found dead in her Estes Park apartment. Police came to the apartment after finding her car abandoned. She had been beaten to death, and she also suffered a knife wound. Prather lived alone and worked for both Marriott Corporation and Gold's Gym. Police said that Prather and Jones once dated.
Authorities in Washington, D.C., are looking at Jones, 28, in connection with two slayings there.