Night of drinking and dominoes led to murder, prison sentence for Belleville man

A 33-year-old Belleville man has been sentenced to prison for the murder of Mario A. King in 2017.

Lester D. Jones was found guilty of first-degree murder on July 24. On Thursday, Judge Zina R. Cruse sentenced him to 50 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections for the killing.

During the hearing, Jones’ defense lawyer, Cathleen MacElroy, asked Cruse to give Jones the minimum sentence: 45 years in prison with the sentencing enhancement for discharge of a firearm while committing the offense. She said that by the time he were to get out of prison, he would be 76 years old and unlikely to offend again.

Instead, Cruse agreed with the state’s request for Jones to serve 50 years in prison and 3 years of probation.

Jones was charged with shooting King, 38, in the head at an apartment in the John DeShields Homes public housing complex during a Jan. 23 night of drinking and dominoes. King was pronounced dead at the scene at 1235 McCasland Ave in East St. Louis at 5:55 a.m.

On Wednesday, Assistant State’s Attorney Erin Conner called King’s death “quick and painless” but “senseless.” The motive for the killing, she said, was that Jones had felt emasculated by jokes and comments King had made toward him that night.

Before firing the fatal shot, Jones allegedly said, “I ain’t no bitch.”

During the trial, Jones’ defense argued that the state could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he had been the one who shot King, as there were other people in the apartment.

At the sentencing hearing, Jones himself maintained his innocence.

“I don’t know what more there is to say,” he said. “I’m going to jail for something I did not do.”

Jones attempted to persuade Cruse that the evidence presented at his trial was not sufficient enough to convict him, but Cruse reminded him that she had sat through the same trial and viewed the same evidence. Though she was not the “finder of fact” in this case and the jury was, Cruse said that “the verdict would remain undisturbed.”

“You are correct, Mr. Jones,” she said. “There is nothing you can say today to stop you from going into the IDOC.”

Jones has the right to appeal his sentence within 30 days.

Hana Muslic has been a public safety reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat since August 2018, covering everything from crime and courts to accidents, fires and natural disasters. She is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s College of Journalism and her previous work can be found in The Lincoln Journal-Star and The Kansas City Star.