LEXINGTON, S.C. — “A child should be safe in a father’s arms. But Tim Jones’ children were not safe in his arms. "A father should love his children...Tim Jones loved himself more.”
So began the opening statements, delivered by Deputy Solicitor Shawn Graham, in the Timothy Jones murder trial in Lexington County. Jones is accused of killing all of his children back in 2014: Abigail Elizabeth Jones, 1; Gabriel Jones, 2; Nahtahn Jones, 6; Elias Jones, 7; and Mera Gracie Jones, 8.
He's pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, while prosecutors are pursuing the death penalty against him.
After spending over just over a week on jury selection, opening statements were held Tuesday afternoon. Circuit Judge Eugene Griffith Jr. decided not to limit the time for opening statements, but both sides needed just under one hour to present their arguments.
In his opening statements for the prosecution, Graham laid out the state’s case against Jones:
Prosecutors say they will present testimony of a phone call around 7-8 p.m. the evening of August 28, 2014, where Jones' ex-wife Amber heard Tim on speakerphone, in a rage, yelling at Nahtahan about a blown electrical outlet saying “you could have killed yourself son.”
It would be the last time that anyone would hear of or from the children alive.
When the children didn’t show up for school or daycare, welfare checks were requested by Saxe Gotha school and Jones’ father, Tim Jones Sr.
Lexington County law enforcement put out an alert for Jones and the children after finding no one home and Jones’ Escalade missing.
On Sept. 6, 2014, Jones was arrested after a traffic stop in Smith County, Mississippi, during which law enforcement officers discovered blood and handwritten notes on how to mutilate bodies in Jones’ SUV.
Prosecutors say Jones left the children’s bodies in plastic trash bags in a wooded area outside of Camden, Alabama, after traveling throughout the South with the bodies in the back of his car.
Prosecutors believe the evidence will show that Jones killed Nahtahn first in a fit of rage. He then allegedly strangled the two oldest with his bare hands and used a belt to strangle the babies.
Graham asked jurists to listen to all of the evidence — especially of expert witnesses — and to ask themselves if the witnesses are “searching for the truth, or trying to find an excuse” in Jones’ case.
The defense’s opening statement was presented by Rob Madsen.
It will be the defense’s objective to prove that Jones was insane at the time of the killings, and that Jones was an undiagnosed schizophrenic. They'll also argue that his childhood and background were not conducive to forming a brain that functions normally and that he is genetically at risk for mental disease.
The defense will present evidence of major mental illness on the maternal and paternal sides of Jones’ family, and that he suffered traumatic brain injury during a motor vehicle accident as a teenager.
As an adult, alcohol and drug abuse were ways that Jones tried to deal with his life until he did some jail time, according to his lawyers. It was during his time in jail, his lawyers will say, Jones found God and tried to turn his life around.
He became religious and took the Bible as the infallible tool by which to lead his life. He began to memorize scripture, but was unable to comprehend the meaning behind the words.
Although he graduated summa cum laude from Mississippi State and was offered a job with Intel in Blythewood, SC, his attorneys say Jones couldn’t seem to overcome insecurities.
According to them, he believed his wife Amber was cheating on him. As a result, the couple divorced and Tim gained custody of the five children.
His parents in Mississippi helped take care of the kids and Jones would travel there to visit on the weekends, while trying to cope with the pressure of his job at Intel.
Tim didn’t want to end up like his mother — institutionalized. According to his attorneys, Jones began counseling — and then self-medicating with drugs and alcohol — and the paranoia grew.
Prosecutors believe he thought the children were conspiring with social services officials and would be taken away.
Jones has admitted to killing his five children on August 28 and then driving around the Southeast with the dead bodies wrapped in plastic garbage bags in the back of his SUV.
The defense will argue that Jones thought that was his way of spending time with the kids,by driving them around after they were dead and playing songs to them. He attempted to dismember Nahtahn's body, but couldn’t.
The defense said that because of mental defect, Jones couldn’t tell right from wrong, and over the last four years, the state has given Jones psychotropic drugs in an effort to prove he’s sane.
Because of his plea -- Jones has already pled guilty by reason of insanity -- the jury will eventually have to consider the evidence presented at trial, deliberate, and then hand down one of four decisions: guilty, guilty by reason of insanity, not guilty by mental defect, or not guilty.
Judge Griffith charged the jury to listen to the evidence in the five separate indictments against Jones and that the State of South Carolina must prove beyond a shadow of a doubt Jones’ guilt.
If Jones is found guilty, the second phase of the trial will begin and the jury will decide whether Jones will get the death penalty or be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
If found guilty by reason of insanity, the judge will handle sentencing for Jones.
The jury has not been sequestered and Griffith reminded jurists not to discuss the trial with anyone, to pay attention, and deliver a fair and impartial verdict.
Defense asked for mistrial in the case, they say Graham sounded as if he was choked up presenting opening remarks.
The first witnesses in the case will be called Wednesday morning.