Ashley Jones’ grandfather, Deroy Nalls, held an important position in the church. The deacon gave talks and taught from the platform. At times, he shared information about his problematic granddaughter with congregants and fellow preachers.
Problems in the family weren’t new to Deroy and Mary Nalls. Ashley’s mother, a registered nurse, allegedly abused substances. Their other daughter, Millie Nalls, a 1987 Gardendale High School graduate, suffered from schizophrenia and was often violent. She was placed in Bryce institution on occasions, and once attempted to scald Ashley and Mary with hot water, court records document.
The trouble with Ashley seemed to hurt Deroy Nalls and Mary Nalls more. They didn’t want her to be a ward of the state, and they didn’t want her in foster care. They believed giving Ashley love, good food, bible teachings, and the comfort of living in a four-bedroom home would put her on the right course.
One preacher told Traciy Curry-Reyes by phone that Deroy Nalls, a free-hearted steelworker, loved Ashley, but he was afraid of her. He thought she was dangerous, and he didn’t know how to help her. It worried him deeply when he got word that Ashley was dating Geramie Hart—the neighborhood bad boy. Deroy Nalls forbade Ashley from seeing Geramie and did everything he could to break them up. He called the police several times because Ashley was too young to date, and Geramie was not the right type of guy for her.
Deroy Nalls underestimated Geramie Hart. The teen had no fear of the police or Mr. Nalls. He continued seeing Ashley. They skipped school together. And when Geramie Hart found out Ashley’s biological mother was trying to regain custody of her, he told Ashley the only way to be together was to kill the entire family.
The custody hearing for Ashley Jones was set for September of 1999. By August, Ashley overheard her grandfather, Deroy Nalls, say he was ready for Ashley to be out of the house—even if it meant turning her over to the state.
There was no way Ashley Jones was going back to her mother. Not ever. Geramie Hart floated Ashley Jones the idea that they could live in Mexico after her family was dead. She clung to his words and followed his instructions because Ashley thought her family had rejected her. Geramie was all she had.
On the night of Friday, August 27, 1999, something bizarre happened. Ashley Jones was kidnapped from a party by enemies of Geramie Hart. Fearing that Ashley was in danger, Geramie had no choice but to contact Deroy Nalls and Mary Nalls to inform them of the abduction.
They searched the house and the community for Ashley Jones but didn’t find her. Hours later, Ashley returned home. Deroy Nalls was upset, and Ashley was placed on punishment for leaving the house.
On Saturday morning, Ashley Jones was distraught and not responding to anyone. Those around her described her as “out of it.” She would later reveal that she was angry that no one took her to the doctor or asked if she was hurt. She was also frightened that she’d be sent to the state. Even though Ashley Jones was unhappy living at home, sending her away increased her desperation and fear.
For two days, Geramie Hart and Ashley Jones planned the murder. It was Geramie’s idea, but Ashley later told police an episode of the 1990s TV show, Melrose Place showed her how to cover their tracks.
That sweltering Sunday night the killer teens were ready to set their plan in motion. While everyone engaged in normal activities, Ashley Jones packed her bags as Geramie Hart had instructed. He already had the gun, and he kept in contact with her to find out what the family was doing at certain hours.
Ashley Jones eyed her grandfather as he watched television in the chair. Mary Nalls was in her bedroom. Millie Rose Nalls, who was menstruating, gathered her hair into a topknot, pinned a black hairnet to her head, dressed in a pink robe, and climbed into bed to rest for the night. Little Mary Elizabeth Nalls fell asleep in a back room.
In the meantime, Geramie Hart worked on his aunt, who had told him he couldn’t spend the night at his cousin’s house. She changed her mind at 10:30 p.m. Sometime after 11:00 p.m., Geramie Hart put on a red bandanna to disguise himself and approached Deroy Nalls’ home. After Ashley Jones let him inside, Geramie walked into the den and shot Deroy Nalls in the face twice, using the guns Ashley had stolen from her grandfather. The shots didn’t kill him instantly. For a long while, he groaned as he walked around aimlessly.
Next, Ashley Jones and Geramie Hart entered Millie Nalls’ bedroom. When she sat up, they shot her three times. Upon hearing the gunshots, Mary Nalls put one foot on the floor and listened. Then two figures shadowed her bedroom door; it was Ashley and Geramie. They shot her with the last bullet they had. Ashley doused her with a mixture of rubbing alcohol, charcoal starter fluid, and nail polish remover.
When Mary went into Millie Nalls’ room to check on her, Ashley saw that her aunt was still breathing. To finish her off, she stabbed Millie in the heart and struck her repeatedly with electric heaters.
Meanwhile, Geramie Hart returned to the kitchen and was surprised to see that Deroy Nalls was still alive. With ceramic pottery, he struck the old man and later stabbed him. He wielded the knife one last time into Deroy Nalls back and left it there, later telling him:
“You won’t be calling the police on me no more. You won’t be calling the police.”
Young Mary heard the commotion and walked into the den area. According to court records, she saw her grandfather, Deroy Nalls, smoldering and stumbling around with the knife in his back.
Geramie Hart and Ashley Jones turned their attention to Mary, she tried to run, but Ashley snatched her back and said: “Sit down and chill.” At some point, Geramie Hart picked Mary up by the neck and said to the frightened youngster, “This is how you die.” Ashley Jones interrupted with, “No, let me do it.” Little Mary sustained fourteen puncture wounds.
Ashley and Geramie thought everyone was dead. Before they escaped, Geramie Hart told Ashley Jones to find some sheets, towels, and paper. The plan was to set the entire house ablaze.
On their way out, Ashley Jones and Geramie Hart took one last look at the carnage. Little Mary played dead while she listened to them stick Deroy Nalls in the throat and steal money from his mattress. They sped away from the scene in the deacon’s lime green Cadillac.
In a brave act, Mary Elizabeth got up, found her grandmother, and led her out of the house to get help. But Grandma Nalls was in no condition to run. She sat in her front yard while her granddaughter looked for help. Down the dark road, Mary went, until she flagged down a passerby and called the police.
When investigators arrived, they found Mrs. Mary Nalls perched on the edge of a lawn chair by a tree. Her shoulders hung low; she couldn’t believe she was still alive. Medics transported her to the local hospital, where they treated the ice pick stick to the jaw and the bullet wound to her shoulder. For more than a month, she went in and out of a coma and endured multiple skin graphs.
At the crime scene, the smell of charcoal fluid hovered over detectives as they entered the house. Deroy Nalls was found lying on his right side on the floor in the den. The bent shaft of an umbrella was on one side of him. On the counter, detectives located a revolver and a large knife, and they saw the telephone line had been cut. In Millie Nalls’ room, the television blared. She was still in bed, lying on her back on peach-colored sheets. One heater rested against her body.
Birmingham detectives searched all over the city for Ashley Jones and Geramie Hart. The two had secreted away to a motel on a seedier side of Birmingham. In the motel room, Ashley Jones cried and then showered. Geramie told her they had no other choice. Then they made love off and on until daybreak.
By morning, the murder of Deroy Nalls and Millie Nalls was plastered all over the television screen. It stunned Ashley that her baby sister wasn’t dead. Later, she joked: “I thought I killed that b—tch!”
Hart’s cousin and another female made sure they had breakfast before leaving town. But by then, Birmingham Police had arrived at the motel. Ashley Jones and Geramie Hart were arrested and charged with two counts of capital murder and two counts of attempted murder.
At the station, Ashley Jones sat in a cold room as detectives interviewed her about the murders. According to Ashley’s attorney, she was chained to a chair for several hours (prosecutors deny this), refusing to answer questions. Geramie Hart was placed in another room. They were not allowed to see each other.
Distraught, Ashley Jones asked investigators if she could see Geramie. She wanted them to know that she loved him, and she expressed remorse for getting him involved since he had a child. Her mother didn’t come to the station when Ashley Jones was first arrested. It is believed she was at the hospital, looking after the two Marys.
Birminghamians were in disbelief. The baby-faced teen, who still sucked her thumb, didn’t look like she could swat a fly. “She had the face of an angel,” Geramie Hart’s aunt told AP. Jessie Hale, a fellow deacon at Hayes Chapel Baptist Church, knew the family well. He told TV Crime Sky that Millie and Deroy Nalls had a double funeral. News of their deaths devastated church members. “It was very shocking. I was hurt and in disbelief. It was shocking to both my wife and myself.”
When TV Crime Sky reached out to Deacon Harry Dowdell, he said he remembered Deroy Nalls, but couldn’t talk because he was “tied up at the moment.” At Ashley Jones’ trial, the defense painted a picture of abuse and neglect. The hope was that Ashley could be found not guilty by reason of insanity. The psychological report was useful for understanding the emotional and physical traumas Ashley Jones had endured throughout her life.
During her grandmother’s tearful testimony, Ashley Jones read magazines and sucked her thumb. Mary Nalls hugged Ashley as she left the stand. The prosecution tried the juveniles as adults. A judge ruled they could face the death penalty. Ashley Jones cried hard when she received a life sentence with no chance for parole.
Incarceration activists said Ashley Jones didn’t deserve life without parole. Her age, her upbringing, and her psychology should allow for a shorter sentence and eligibility for parole, they believed. A psychiatrist stated that Ashley Jones suffered from undiagnosed “post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic and severe depression, paranoia, and possible schizophrenia.”
The judge who sentenced Ashley didn’t take those findings into account. She said the teen lacked true remorse, and her apology was “hollow and insincere.” It also came out that Ashley Jones threatened other inmates in the Jefferson County Jail, stating she’d do the same to them that she had done to her family.
Some family members were sympathetic toward Ashley Jones. Mary ‘Liz’ Nalls was her biggest supporter, though she agreed with the sentence at first.
“I feel life in prison without the possibility of parole is appropriate.”
In prison, Ashley Jones received the proper treatment for her mental issues, took classes, and obtained her diploma. Because of her good behavior, she was moved to the Honor Block at Tutwiler prison.
At age 22, Ashley Jones tried to appeal her long sentence. Her grandmother, Mary Nalls, who was by then eighty-one-years-old, thought her granddaughter deserved a second chance and that a sentence of 15-20 years would be enough, according to the New York Times.
During Geramie Hart’s trial, he kept his head down. And he covered his ears while his former friend testified. Today, he continues serving his time. So far, there are no updates about him.
Unable to drive, Mary Ellizabeth ‘Liz’ Nalls had a hard time after the murders. She lost her husband of over fifty years, her daughter, Millie Nalls, and a second daughter in later years. Mary Nalls died in 2015. Some family members still keep in touch with Ashley.
As for little Mary Elizabeth Nalls, she lives under another name and is all grown up, her Facebook page shows. But for those who remember this case, she is still that little girl who survived the attack and saved her grandmother’s life. Despite, what Ashley did, it’s still her sister. In 1999, ten-year-old Mary stated the following.
“I hate what happened. I’m moving from home to home. I wish things could be the same again. I wish this never happened.”
[Main image via Facebook]