COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Timothy Jones Jr. was a selfish, evil man who wanted to inflict revenge on the mother of his five children and tried to hide their bodies after killing them, a prosecutor said Monday in closing statements in his death penalty trial.
But the South Carolina man’s lawyers say all of that came from the broken brain of a man with undiagnosed schizophrenia. Stress from a failed marriage and struggling to raise his children alone exacerbated his mental illness and then trying to medicate himself with alcohol and synthetic marijuana pushed him over the edge, the lawyers say.
Prosecutors want jurors to find Jones guilty of five counts of murder and move on to a second stage of the trial where they will decide if the crime is horrible enough for the death penalty. The jury deliberated about 90 minutes Monday evening before going home. They will be back Tuesday morning.
Jones’ lawyers said he didn’t know right from wrong when he killed his five kids, ages 1 to 8, in their Lexington home in August 2014 and should be found not guilty by reason of insanity . In that case, he would be held in a mental hospital until a judge determined his mental illness was treated.
There are two other choices — not guilty or guilty but mentally ill. Defense lawyer Boyd Young didn’t mention those choices in his closing. Prosecutor Rick Hubbard said not guilty is out of the question because Jones confessed to the killings and his lawyers haven’t disputed that. Hubbard said guilty but mentally ill is a poor choice because Jones was angry and vengeful , not suffering mental problems.
“This man knew right from wrong. He chose wrong,” Hubbard said.
Hubbard spent more than an hour Monday unwinding what happened. Jones spanked and forced 6-year-old Nahtahn into hours of vigorous exercise after he wouldn’t admit he broke an electrical outlet, Hubbard said.
Jones then strangled 8-year-old Mera and 7-year-old Elias with his hands and, in his confession, said he used a belt to choke 2-year-old Gabriel and 1-year-old Abigail because his hands were too big, Hubbard said.
“A child should feel safe in his father’s arms,” Hubbard said.
After killing the children, Jones gathered his passport and other items, including letters the children’s mother wrote to them and drove with the five bodies in his SUV around the Southeast for nine days before dumping five garbage bags on a hillside near Camden, Alabama. Jones was arrested at a traffic checkpoint in Smith County, Mississippi, after an officer smelled a horrible odor of decomposition.
Hubbard showed the jury a surveillance photo of Jones at a Walmart near his home after he put the bodies in the SUV.
“His kids are dead in the car while he is walking through Walmart. He looks like a regular shopper. But instead in his cart, he had saws, acid — not a shovel,” Hubbard said.
During his closing argument, defense lawyer Young said the prosecution ignored plenty of evidence that proved Jones was insane. The full picture included a mother with schizophrenia who has been in a mental institution for more than two decades. Jones killed his children because he grew up without a mother and in his “crazy” mind thought their mother would refuse to raise them and they would end up institutionalized too, Young said.
“Killing someone out of hatred is murder. Killing children out of love is insanity,” Young said.
Boyd also played about a five minute sermon from a preacher Jones used for child raising advice. The minister cited Proverbs 23: 13-14 in the Bible which says: “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.”
That’s why Jones kept spanking his children, even after the Department of Social Services threated to take them away. “He’s been told by God he needs to spank. He isn’t going to listen to a DSS safety plan,” Young said.
Jones’ devout, stubborn beliefs ruined his marriage and his relationship because he demanded he be treated as the head of the household, his wife be totally subservient and everyone else bend to his beliefs, Young said. And when Jones heard voices or had other symptoms of his mental illness, Boyd said, the speaking in tongues or quoting the Bible “calmed that fire in his mind.”
The trial is being livestreamed from the Lexington County courthouse.