December 7, 2022
Former death row inmate Shelton Jones was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison in a plea deal that takes Jones off death row but will keep him in prison for the rest of his life, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced.
“We always hope to carry out the verdict of the people—that is our job—but so much time has passed that it makes re-trying the case extremely difficult and risky,” Ogg said. “The Soboleski family made a terribly difficult decision in deciding that this plea bargain was the way to go, and our prosecutors drafted an agreement that is as airtight as a legal agreement can be—the defendant waived all of his legal rights and he will spend the rest of his life in prison.”
Jones was sentenced to death for killing Houston Police Sgt. Bruno Soboleski in April 1991, but a federal district court overturned his sentence in light of bad jury instructions. The case then wound its way through various courts of appeal before finally being sent back to Harris County for a retrial in 2019.
Even though the Harris County District Attorney’s Office committed to re-trying the punishment phase of the death penalty trial, more than a dozen witnesses have died or been declared incompetent since the original trial, so getting the death penalty would not have been assured.
Because Shelton would be tried under the law as it was in 1991, if he was not sentenced to death, he would have been eligible for parole.
Instead of going back to trial for capital murder, Jones pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery for an armed robbery he committed and for which he was never convicted. He then agreed to a life sentence for that robbery.
He also agreed that he used a deadly weapon during that crime, which prohibits him from being eligible for parole for 30 years. As part of the plea deal, Jones also agreed to never try to appeal the sentence or seek a pardon. If he does, he can be re-tried for capital murder.
Joshua Reiss, chief of the Post-Conviction Writs Division in the district attorney's office, said the plea deal is expected to keep Jones in prison for the rest of his life.
“We have an agreement, which is as ironclad as an agreement can be, that it is his desire to spend the rest of his natural life in prison,” Reiss said. “If Mr. Jones violates the agreement, the deal is over and we can come back to court and seek the death penalty.”