Suspect released from jail days before murder

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The man accused of killing a hostage near Kalamazoo and then opening fire on police, injuring three of them, was formally charged Tuesday.

William Paul Jones faces 19 criminal charges: open murder; felony murder; three counts of assault with intent to commit murder; first-degree home invasion; unlawful imprisonment; being a felon in possession of a firearm; being a felon in possession of ammunition; assaulting, resisting and obstructing an officer; and nine counts of felony firearm.

At a hearing Tuesday afternoon, a Kalamazoo County judge decided there was probable cause to charge Jones with murdering Chris Neal, 22.

During the arraignment later that day, Jones shook his head while the judge read the charges. When asked if he understood the counts, he said “no”

The suspect then asked if he could plead guilty now so he can go to prison for the rest of his life “like everybody wants.” His attorney advised him to plead not guilty for now and the judge accepted that recommendation.

Christopher Neal
An undated photo of Christopher Neal courtesy Facebook.

Authorities say that Jones, armed with two guns, broke into Neal’s home on Proctor Avenue near King Highway in Comstock Township around 10:30 p.m. Sunday.

Deputies testified Tuesday that Jones was among those who called 911 that night, telling dispatchers, “Christopher Neal is dead.” Neal was shot in the back of the head.

Authorities say that when responding, officers heard gunfire, then moved into the house and Jones started shooting. A Kalamazoo public safety officer was shot in the shoulder, a Michigan State Police trooper took a bullet to the leg and a Kalamazoo County sheriff’s deputy was grazed on the head. All three will be OK.

Neal’s wife and young daughter were in the house when the break-in happened. They hid and were not hurt.

Jones has been suspected of committing previous home invasions and documents show that Jones was released from jail just five days before allegedly committing this latest crime.

Court documents show that Jones was charged and convicted of second-degree home invasion in Barry County in 2002.

Jones was arrested again in August 2018, along with an accomplice, for a series of home invasions south of Battle Creek, in which wallets, purses and money were stolen. Authorities say people were in the homes at the time, but none of them were hurt.

In the report, authorities said Jones and his accomplice were also suspected of committing home invasions, but the prosecutor told News 8 that Jones was never charged in connection to those crimes. 

The Calhoun County Prosecutor’s Office confirmed that Jones had been in jail since February 2019, after being convicted of illegal sale/use of a financial transaction device charge. He was released Nov. 26, just days before Neal died.

Law enforcement officials at the Calhoun County Jail refer to Jones as a “frequent flyer,” meaning he comes and goes often. 

Those close to the victim were frustrated to hear Jones could allegedly commit such a heinous crime just days after being released from jail. 

Kathy Smith, a close friend of Neal’s wife, Haley Marissa Coe, who has known her since she was in the seventh grade says they are shocked to hear of the suspect’s recent release from jail.

“It’s very sad that he was punished for something and then released. He goes out and does something horrific in a short period of time,” Smith said. “It makes me wonder what, what’s going on in his head, in his life to do something so cruel and meaningless.”   

Chris Neal was a 22-year-old and had served in the Navy where he met his wife Haley. He had just moved to the Kalamazoo area last month, which is where his wife is from. Haley is a graduate of Portage Northern High School.

>>Online: Condolences for the family of Christopher Neal

Smith has a question for the person responsible for Neal’s death.

“Why?” Smith said. “What I want to say I probably can’t say on TV because it’s just a lot of bitterness, a lot of pain, a lot of shock and numbness yet. I just don’t get it.”  

Jones is being held in the Kalamazoo County Jail awaiting trial. A judge denied him bond.

News 8’s Jacqueline Francis contributed to this report.

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