SPRINGFIELD, MO. - A death penalty trial began this week at the federal courthouse in Springfield.
But even if the defendant is found guilty, he will probably die before he's executed, according to his lawyer.
Ulysses Jones Jr., 61, is accused of killing 38-year-old Timothy Baker with a makeshift knife in January 2006 at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, where both men were prisoners.
Jones is standing trial this week, more than a decade after the homicide, but the court is taking half-days on Tuesdays and Thursdays to accommodate his twice-weekly dialysis treatments.
Jones' attorney Thomas Carver said Jones has bad kidneys and is slowly dying.
If Jones is convicted and sentenced to death, Carver said, he will likely die at some point during the decade-long appeals process that accompanies most capital cases.
"He suffers from end-stage renal disease," Carver said. "That is a terminal disease. He will die from it."
Carver said Jones has been on dialysis for the last 30 years, a remarkable feat since the average life expectancy for people in his situation is between 5 and 10 years, according to the National Kidney Foundation.
Carver said his client's illness helps explain why authorities took four years to charge Jones with Baker's killing and another seven years to bring the case to trial.
"I am confident that he was not indicted until 2010 because the government was hoping he would die," Carver said.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Missouri declined to discuss the specifics of the Jones case, saying it would be inappropriate to do so while the case was going before a jury.
Jones is already serving a life sentence for two robberies and murders in 1979 and 1980 in Washington, D.C., according to his lawyer.
When Jones was sentenced for his second murder conviction, the prosecutor reportedly called Jones "a man marked by savagery, viciousness and brutality."
Carver acknowledged the 2006 homicide presents a dilemma for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Missouri:
If Jones gets another life sentence, which Carver said he offered, has he really been punished?
And, at the same time, is it worth the government's time and money to go after a death sentence that Jones probably won't live to face?
Both the prosecutors and defense attorneys in this case are being paid with public money.
"We're talking millions of dollars here," Carver said, if the case were to go on for several more years.
There are two separate proceedings in a death penalty case. In the first phase, which began in earnest on Thursday, prosecutors try to convince the jury that the defendant is guilty of murder. In the second phase, prosecutors and defense attorneys present their arguments for and against the death penalty.
The process is expected to take between four and six weeks in Jones' case.
If Jones is sentenced to death, Carver said, that would trigger a lengthy appeals process that could reach the Supreme Court.
Baker, who is from Ohio, was at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners on a cocaine-related conviction when he was killed. He had served about half of his six-year sentence.
Over the last 11 years, the case has moved through the court system with basically no publicity in Springfield, other than a few articles when Baker died and then again when Jones was indicted.
It's not uncommon for events involving the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners (known around town as the Fed Med) to avoid the public spotlight.
Although the facility is located near the intersection of Sunshine Street and Kansas Expressway, most of the roughly 1,000 prisoners are from out of state and have no real connection to the Springfield community.
The News-Leader has reported in the past the majority of the prisoners there receive some medical care, and the facility is home to the largest dialysis center in the nation. A spokesman for the facility declined to answer several general questions about the Fed Med this week.
Federal prison authorities and the FBI, which investigated this case, are generally reluctant to release details of an open investigation to the public.
Neither agency would provide the News-Leader with a mug shot for Jones.
The only information that has been released about the 2006 homicide is that it occurred at the Fed Med and Baker was asleep and on sleeping medication at the time he was killed.
An indictment accuses Jones of killing Baker "after substantial planning and premeditation."
Jones is also accused of attacking another inmate on the night of the homicide. Court documents say Jones stabbed an inmate identified by the initials R.R., who survived.
Jones has been charged with one count of murder, one count of murder by a federal prisoner serving a life term and one count of assault.
Much of the recent pre-trial court proceedings in the case dealt with Jones' intellectual capacity and ability to assist in his own defense.
The defense filed a motion asking the court to preclude the government from seeking the death penalty, claiming Jones has significant cognitive impairments. On Sept. 8, Judge Greg Kays denied the motion.
Executions are rare in federal cases. Only three federal inmates have been executed since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988, according to the death penalty information center.
The last federal death penalty case in Springfield was in 2014. Wesley Paul Coonce Jr. and Charles Michael Hall were sentenced to death for killing fellow inmate Victor Castro-Rodriguez at the Fed Med.
© 2017 USATODAY.COM