Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas said Tuesday his office will continue reviewing whether to file murder charges against Christopher J. Jones, 23, who police were chasing when the two news helicopters crashed while taping the incident.
Jones will face two counts of aggravated assault, two counts of theft and one count unlawful flight related to the car chase, Thomas announced at Tuesday’s news conference. If found guilty on all charges, he could face 127 years in prison.
Jones, 23, is being held in Maricopa County jail on $1 million bond.
Thomas said his office is continuing to work with the Phoenix Police Department and that the department has insisted he seek murder charges against Jones, who was leading the police chase when two helicopters crashed, killing four news crewmen.
“These people were doing an important job and that is providing news to the people of this community,” Thomas said.
Thomas has not said whether he will pursue homicide charges. He said much will depend on the results of the investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. “The facts we need to complete this investigation just haven’t been complete,” he said.
Regardless, legal experts cautioned that could be a tough legal road to go down. Arizona law allows a criminal to be charged with murder if someone is killed while committing a felony.
The law assumes the criminal should have known there was a chance someone could have died while committing the crime. For example, if someone robs a store at gunpoint it’s reasonable to assume the gun could accidentally fire and kill an innocent bystander.
Legal experts also said the robber should presume that the cashier of the store could fire their own gun and kill an innocent customer.
I fully support the law (and, in general, harsh sentences for convicts) but not the application in this case. The helicopter occupants were not innocent bystanders. They chose to be in the vicinity of the felony knowing that it was in progress. It's tragic that they died in the crash, but it seems farfetched to hold the perp legally responsible for that.