Florence and Sonny Jones still live in the home where their 17-year-old daughter was stabbed, killed and sexually assaulted 45 years ago.
They say the priceless memories they shared there with their daughter, Kathy, and a younger son overshadow the grisly scene that haunts them to this day.
“The pain is just as bad on my wife and me at times now as it was right after it happened,” Sonny Jones said. “We have good days and bad days, but we never thought about moving. We just had too many good memories here.”
Now, their daughter’s killer, Carlos Don Stultz, is up for a parole review again, a process that takes several months. It will be his 27th time seeking freedom since he first became eligible in the 1980s.
Stultz was convicted of killing Kathy Jones at her home near Mexia in 1969 and a 12-year-old girl in Dallas the same year. He was sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted to life after the U.S. Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional in 1972.
Now, 82-year-old Holloway Martin, the man who originally prosecuted Stultz in Kathy Jones’ death; the residents of the small, close-knit Mexia community; and Limestone County District Attorney Roy DeFriend are waging another campaign to keep the man in prison until he dies.
Stultz, now age 71, has been behind bars for 44 years. He is serving two life prison terms for the two murders, plus a 50-year sentence for a burglary in Dallas County he says he did not commit.
He is gray, stooped and ambles around with a walker after he broke a hip stumbling over a bag of clothes in the prison laundry room last year. He had a heart attack in 2005 and underwent surgery that he says saved his life.
Denying the killings
In an interview at the Wallace Pack Unit near Navasota, Stultz denied involvement in the death of either girl, acknowledging that being wrongfully convicted in two separate murders qualifies him as the unluckiest man in the world.
“I know, right?” Stultz said with half a grin.
Stultz said he became a Christian after his mother died in 2006 and now spends most of his time listening to a Christian radio station and sketching pictures of Jesus and hot rod cars in his bunk in a 52-man cell block.
He has a daughter whom he only saw once as an infant. She has never visited, and he doesn’t know where she is.
After repeated denials that he killed Jones, the young Mexia High School twirler and saxophone player, Stultz said he would not say he did it even if the parole board promised to set him free the next day.
“I would hold a Bible in my hand and before the face of God I would tell the parents that I did not kill your daughter,” Stultz said. “If I said I did, I’d be lying in the face of the man, the father above.”
With the help of DeFriend, their many lifelong friends and Limestone County media outlets, the Joneses have collected more than 2,000 names on petitions and dozens of letters from people asking the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles yet again to deny Stultz, a six-time convicted felon.
Martin, the former Limestone County district attorney who prosecuted Stultz and who still practices law in Mexia today, said Kathy Jones’ death shocked the small community and had a chilling effect on the town for many years. Grisly murders of pretty high school girls just didn’t happen there, he said.
Martin said he was surprised to learn that Stultz denied killing Kathy Jones to the Tribune-Herald since he confessed to a polygraph operator after the murder and led Martin and a Texas Ranger to the bloody knife that he threw into a ditch beside a county road just east of Mexia near Shiloh.
“I have written the parole board a letter each and every time he has come up for parole,” Martin said. “I tell them that he deserves the death penalty as much today as the day he did it. He is unprincipled and he is just an animal. He is bad and always has been.
“I just hope we can keep that bastard from ever getting out of prison.”
On June 3, 1969, Kathy Jones baked some cookies for an end-of-school party in her homemaking class but left them at home. She drove her Volkswagen home at lunch to get them and Stultz, a ranch hand who was filling up his truck at a gas station, saw her drive by and followed her home, her mother said.
The medical examiner testified the girl was stabbed 18 times. Forensic evidence showed Stultz sexually assaulted her after she was dead.
“It devastated this town to have a little girl go home for lunch from high school and be murdered,” Martin said.
Florence Jones, 85, said her ailing father was lying in bed looking out the window of his home, which was next door to her own home. He saw a truck pull up to the house after Kathy pulled in but thought it was a repairman, she said.
Her father was able to give authorities a description of the truck after a rancher checking on his cows found Kathy Jones’ partially clad body lying in his pasture.
Stultz was living with his pregnant girlfriend at the time, and her mother called police to report that he came home wearing bloody clothes.
Stultz claimed the blood was his own — a work accident when he caught a ring in some machinery and cut his finger. He said he was eating lunch at a small diner near Mexia when Kathy Jones was killed.
He said he ate and went right back to work on the ranch.
Martin said he and a Texas Ranger drove Stultz to Waco to take a polygraph test at Department of Public Safety headquarters. The operator came out and told them Stultz confessed during the session and Stultz led him and the Ranger to the murder weapon on the way back from Waco, Martin said.
Kathy, a junior, was supposed to play saxophone in the school band that night at the graduation ceremony.
“The band director put her horn in her empty chair in her memory,” Florence Jones said. “The other kids were so upset, poor things, none of them could hardly play.”
DeFriend, the Limestone County district attorney, said he will continue to do whatever he can to make sure that Stultz, whom he called a “predatory animal,” does not set foot outside of prison.
“My concerns, other than what he would do if released into society, go out to the Jones family and the family of Stultz’s other murder victim,” DeFriend said. “Coupled with the loss of their loved ones, they have to deal with the uncertainty of Stultz coming back up for parole every few years.”
Sonny Jones, 85, said he worries about his friends if Stultz were ever released on parole.
“I’m afraid some innocent person would kill him and have to go to the penitentiary for that because there are a lot of people who tell us often if he gets out that they would kill him,” Sonny Jones said.
In his protest letter to the parole board, Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Michael R. Casillas said because of the age of the case, he fears the parole board will view Stultz “as some elderly gentleman who should be released so as to make room for some younger violent criminal.”
“While Stultz may be older than the general prison population, a reasonable mind can reasonably infer from Stultz’s prior crimes that Stultz will constitute an ongoing threat to society as long as he is alive,” Casillas wrote.