Ex-firefighter charged in plot to kill

Edward Clinton Jones III is charged with solicitation to murder in an alleged plot to kill his wife.

A retired Charleston Fire Department captain on disability after the fatal Sofa Super Store fire allegedly attempted to orchestrate a New Year's Day murder of his longtime wife.

But on the first day of the year, Edward Clinton Jones III found himself before a Charleston County judge after police foiled the murder-for-hire attempt, officials said.

According to the Charleston Police Department, Jones, 41, of Asheford Place Drive, offered to pay an undercover police officer to kill the ex-firefighter's wife. He is being held in the Cannon Detention Center on a charge of solicitation to murder. Magistrate Sheryl Perry denied bail during a bond hearing Wednesday morning.

The hearing, which lasted about 10 minutes, was attended by more than a dozen family members, including Jones' wife, Michelle.

She read a prepared statement during the hearing, as she pleaded for Perry to deny bail.

"I am afraid for my life," she said in a shaky voice. "I am afraid he will come after me and finish what he wanted to do."

Jones, who was in a wheelchair, responded: "This is not the end. I do love my wife and this was totally stupid. I don't know why I could even talk about such a thing. This is not me; I've never hurt anybody in my life."

After the hearing, Michelle Jones said she did not intend on moving back to Delaware with their children, which her husband had allegedly told the undercover officer.

"He could have given me divorce papers if that's what he wanted," Jones said. "I had no idea this was coming at all. I was shocked."

Police received a tip Monday from a witness that Jones was inquiring about hiring a hitman because his wife was planning to leave him and move to out of state, according to the affidavit. Jones said he would pay for it with insurance money he would collect, the affidavit states.

On Tuesday afternoon, Jones met with the undercover officer and discussed the plan to kill his wife, the court paper states.

The officer, who is not being identified, recorded Jones saying he wanted his wife killed on New Year's Day while she was working, according to the affidavit. He told the officer that the ammunition to be used was already "cleaned" and to make sure and "finish off" his wife because he didn't want to visit her in a hospital, the affidavit states.

They discussed a payment of $8,000 for the killing, and Jones provided a photo of his wife, the affidavit states.

Jones, a father of four, served on the Charleston Fire Department for 19 years.

Jones is one of the former Charleston firefighters who are suing Sofa Super Store, its owners and several furniture companies, alleging they suffered physical and emotional injuries from the blaze that killed nine of their fellow firemen.

On June 18, 2007, Jones battled the fire that destroyed the West Ashley store. He helped carry his friends' burned bodies from the ruins. He took early retirement after post-traumatic stress disorder left him unable to do his job.

He told The Post and Courier in May 2009 that after the fire, he suffered from panic attacks, anxiety and anger. He could no longer handle the responsibility of commanding a firefighting crew.

He said his problems also caused him to give up the once-successful plumbing business that helped support his family. Jones said he takes medications to sleep and function.

"That night changed a lot of us," Jones said. "The only thing I've ever known is firefighting, and now I can't even stand to hear the sound of a siren."

Jones, whose father was a Charleston firefighter, was off duty the night of the Sofa Super Store blaze but raced to the Savannah Highway furniture store to help his overwhelmed colleagues try to beat back the blaze. He watched helplessly as fire consumed the building and sent the roof collapsing down on nine men inside. Six of those men served at Stations 16 and 19, the same firehouse as Jones.

Jones said he settled a workers' compensation case against the city of Charleston for $108,000. At the time of the 2009 interview, he was one of six Charleston firefighters to be granted disability retirement in the wake of the fire.

He told the newspaper, "The only thing the city of Charleston and the Sofa Super Store could really do to make restitution for this is to make that night go away because it's ruining my life."

In the lawsuits against the businesses, Jones and others alleged negligence and reckless conduct. The suits seek unspecified damages.

The firefighters allege the incident left them with PTSD, anxiety, flashbacks and other psychological and emotional problems "collectively referred to as a 'nervous breakdown.' "

Among other things, the lawsuits allege that illegal additions to the store violated building codes and allowed the fire to spread rapidly through the building. The complaints also fault the store and its owners for allegedly installing highly flammable roofing and ceiling products and storing highly flammable furniture and other materials without adequate fire safety systems, such as sprinklers.

The lawsuits also target the manufacturers of the roofing products and allege that the furniture makers failed to warn people about the fire dangers associated with their products.

Michelle Jones said Wednesday that she has stood by her husband through tough times, including the depression that followed the Super Store fire.

"It has been a rollercoaster and we have our good days and bad days," she said. "To go off the chart like this, I have no idea how this had come to that."

Cleve O'Quinn and Glenn Smith contributed to this report.