Southgate Jones stood in a Durham County courtroom holding a photograph of his 24-year-old daughter who died from a drug overdose last year.
“She always looked at every day as a gift,” Jones said, as he described Margaret Elizabeth Jones’ zest for life. She graduated from Durham Academy and UNC-Chapel Hill, where she studied psychology and sociology and graduated with honors. She pledged Alpha Chi Omega sorority. She ran two half-marathons and a full marathon. She worked at the Duke Center for Smoking Cessation.
“They believed that she had an incredible future in academia and grant research ahead of her,” Southgate Jones said. “She had already become a senior research assistant to that team.”
On Aug. 13, 2017, Margaret Jones’ roommate found her unresponsive on the couch in her Ninth Street apartment, according to a state medical examiner’s report. The cause of death: acute heroin and alcohol intoxication.
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The Durham County District Attorney’s Office took the unusual step of pursuing criminal charges in the overdose case.
On Dec. 13, Kane Conrad Graves, 27, of Apex was charged with second-degree murder and delivering heroin in connection with Jones’ death.
“We have had a lot of drug deaths in this community,” said Graves’ attorney Bill Thomas, who has practiced criminal defense in Durham for 38 years. “We have never had a prosecution like this before.”
Graves denies giving Jones the heroin, Thomas said.
“We feel very badly for this family, but this young man is not responsible for the death of (Margaret Jones),” Thomas said.
‘Where the facts lead’
Assistant District Attorney Thomas Crosby said he doesn’t recall the DA’s Office prosecuting an overdose case as murder since Superior Court Judge Jim Hardin was district attorney. Hardin was DA from 1994 to 2005.
When asked why the office is doing so now, Crosby said, “We go where the facts lead us.”
Crosby said he didn’t want to say anything else beyond what he said at a Wednesday court hearing in which Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway reduced Graves’ bail from $600,000 to $200,000.
During the hearing, Crosby said Jones had solicited pills online.
Graves contacted her Dec. 12, and said he didn’t have pills “but had what he referred to as dog food,” Crosby said. Jones then did a search for dog food on the online site Urban Dictionary, which says it is street slang for heroin.
Jones replied, saying she’d never done it before, Crosby said.
Surveillance footage shows Jones letting Graves into her apartment and him leaving.
“Both times carrying a satchel,” Crosby said.
Malice elevated the case to second-degree murder, Crosby said. In 2012, Graves overdosed in Cary, which demonstrates that he knew the substance was dangerous, Crosby said.
Federal officials are also interested in the case. An FBI task force officer is working with an assistant U.S. attorney in reviewing the case for a potential charge of distribution of controlled substance resulting in death, Crosby said.
If Graves is convicted of second-degree murder, he could face a 15- to 20-year sentence, Crosby said. He would likely face a 20-year to life sentence if convicted of the federal crime.
Graves was convicted of driving while impaired in Wake, Lee and Guilford counties in 2012, according to court records. In 2014, he was convicted of possession of drug paraphernalia in Wake.
When Graves was arrested in December, he was on probation for the DWI conviction in Lee County.
Thomas noted that the medical examiner’s report states Jones had a history of depression, drug and alcohol abuse. He also said the amount of heroin in her system “was substantially below the toxic or fatal level.”
Crosby said he spoke with two medical examiners.
“Both doctors were able to state with medical certainty, but for the heroin intoxication, Ms. Jones would still be alive,” Crosby said.