LEXINGTON, S.C. — A South Carolina jury has sentenced Timothy Jones Jr. to death for the murders of his five children, condemning the man for the brutal killings that happened nearly a half decade ago.
The 12 member panel returned their verdict Thursday afternoon at the main courthouse in Lexington after about an hour and 45 minutes of deliberation. In doing so, they rejected the efforts of the defense to spare the man's life and sentence him to life in prison.
In closing arguments, Eleventh Circuit Solicitor Rick Hubbard, the lead prosecutors, called Jones "the worst of the worst" and asked "is there any crime worse than that?" He said Jones deserved no mercy: "he sentenced those kids to death," Hubbard said.
Jones lawyers, however, said that the Jones family are victims too, and that they didn't need to see another family member die. "How much more death does the Jones family have to endure," Casey Secor told jurors.
After the verdict came down, Hubbard said "justice was done."
Jones, 37, admitted to killing 8-year-old Merah Gracie, 7-year-old Elias, 6-year-old Nahtahn, 2-year-old Gabriel, and 1-year-old Abigail Elaine in the family home on South Lake Drive in Red Bank on August 28, 2014. Jones had pled not guilty by reason of insanity.
On June 4, the jury took just over 6 hours to find Jones guilty. Jones did not take the stand to testify in his defense in either the guilt or penalty phase of the trial. However, a confession audio recording from 2014 was played in court.
The death penalty was not automatic in this case — jurors could have considered extenuating circumstances and sentenced Jones to life without parole, rather than death. All twelve deciding jurors had to be in agreement and sign the verdict form. The judge then formally sentenced him a short time later.
The Jones family, as they left the courthouse, were asked for a statement, but said "no comment."
The trial began on May 15 and featured testimony from law enforcement officials, mental health experts, correctional officers, teachers and school administrators from Saxe Gotha Elementary School, babysitters, and members of Jones’ immediate family. Jones' guilt was never in question: he'd confessed to the crime, and the evidence was overwhelming against him--but what the defense tried to prove was that the man was deeply mentally ill, and not in control of his actions.
But in choosing the guilty verdict earlier this month, the jury rejected that argument. All that was left to decide then was his punishment.
The prosecution presented teachers and former babysitters who described the trauma of losing the children on them, even though they weren't related. One teacher said he was leaving the school where one of the children attended because of all the memories.
The defense did bring on experts, but mainly presented relatives who asked for life in prison for Jones.
On Monday, Jones' father and grandmother both painted a picture of a man who led a disturbed adolescence and adulthood. They both broke down in tears when asked if he deserved to die. "Oh God no," his grandmother said.
On Tuesday, the mother of the children, Amber Kyzer, took the stand for the second time in the trial. When she first spoke in May, she broke down in tears and slumped over in the witness box.
This time, however, while she showed some emotion, she was there to ask for mercy for her husband. She said while she wanted to "rip his face off," she said she believed her children would not want their dad to die. But she said she would be okay with whatever decision the jury made.
Solicitor Rick Hubbard gave the closing arguments for the State in the penalty phase of the Timothy Jones Jr murder trial in Lexington County Courthouse.
“Would you reserve death for the worst of the worst? Isn’t he (pointing at Tim Jones) the worst of the worst? Tim Jones a man who brutally murdered his five children.”
Hubbard asks the jury what kind of man is Jones? He says that Jones is a murderer. He betrayed the trust of his five children by taking their young lives.
He brings up Jones’ childhood and acknowledges that while there was chaos in his life, Jones’ family insulated him from much of it because they saw that he “had something special.”
“His daddy loved his son — for whatever faults Tim Jones Sr had, he loved his son.”
Hubbard reminded the jury that Jones’ grandmother said she loved him too, but also described Jones as being selfish.
Jones grew up knowing he could manipulate his family. If he got mad and walked away, the family would come to him and apologize, not the other way around.
Hubbard said that Jones had the gifts to be so much more. He had a choice — and he chose to be a murderer.
After Jones confesses, what does he have to lose? He lead them to the bodies
Hubbard sets the scene of where the children’s bodies were found: there are bugs, wild animals. Its September in Alabama — much like South Carolina, its hot and the kids are in black garbage bags.
He shows the jury a family photo where the kids are laughing, piled on top of each other in front of the camera; then he shows the pile of garbage bags containing the dead children and says “Jones couldn’t see the loving family — he did this.”
“No father does that to his children.”
Hubbard continues with telling the jury that the experts have said that Jones’ family history pointed to Tim Jones Jr becoming a murderer.
“The only pattern you see here is a pattern of choices.”
After describing Jones’s choices that brought him to the courtroom today — the murder of his children and the condition that he left them in — Hubbard asks: Is he the worst of the worst? Is this a man that merits mercy?
Holding a package of crime scene and autopsy photos, Hubbard asks the jury: If you want to know what (Jones) thought of Merah (and Elias, Nahtahn, Gabriel and Abigail) you’ll have to look in Bag 2 like the officers had to do… If you have any doubt, look in the bags.
Defense counsel Casey Secor gave the closing arguments for Timothy Jones Jr to be sentenced to life in prison.
Secor began by asking the jury “how much more death will the Jones family have to endure? How many more tears will they have to shed, how much heartache will they have to endure?”
The attorney tells the story of his grandmother that always felt guilty for things that the family did and that she always felt at fault even though the actions were take by others.
Secor says, “I can’t imagine being in TIm’s position and being the source of the pain he has inflicted on his family.
“Under these horrible circumstances how do you punish severely while showing compassion for the family of these children?”
The Jones family has been open and cooperative with investigators, doctors and others involved in this case and Secor asks the jury how do you thank the family for that while still severely punishing Tim? Give him life without parole.
Secor tells the jury that it was their decision as “a group factual decision that brought us here. Tim will never leave prison. He alone is responsible for his actions.”
This next decision that the jury makes, he says, will be based on the juror’s individual moral judgements.
The law will be satisfied with a sentence of life without parole. Secor tells the jury there is no such thing as an automatic death penalty verdict. Death is an option that may be considered even though statutory aggravated circumstances have been met.
“Mitigating circumstances is anything or any reason that you decide to not vote for death, there is no burden of proof and it doesn’t matter if the rest of the jury doesn’t agree with you.
“Each of you can sentence Tim to life for any reason, no reason or a mercy alone.”
Secor says “the Bible says ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ … it also says ‘Blessed are the peacemakers…’
“You can severely punish Tim Jones and still show mercy.
“This family is carrying too much sorrow already.”
BACKGROUND: The facts of the case and the timeline for the crime follows:
- The afternoon of Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014: Tim Jones picks up his three older children from Saxe Gotha Elementary and collects his two youngest children from the babysitter Christina Ehlke.
- Before 7 p.m. Jones begins to question his 6-year-old son Nahtahn about some busted power outlets in the family’s mobile home. The boy is made to do 100 sit-ups, 100 push-ups and 100 squats while Jones asks him to “come off it” and tell him what happened. Jones also spanks and beats the boy.
- At 7:10 p.m. Jones’ estranged wife Amber calls to talk to the kids. Jones finally picks up the phone after not answering four previous calls from Amber at 7, 7:02, 7:05 and 7:09 pm. During the phone call, Nahtahn tells his mother that “it was an accident.” Tim Jones overhears his son talking to his mother and takes the phone away, accuses Amber of protecting the boy and hangs up.
- At some point, Nahtahn is sent to bed.
- Data records of Jones’ Samsung Galaxy phone obtained by the Lexington County Sheriffs Department and SLED show that Amber tried calling Jones eight more times that evening.
- Sometime before 8:30 p.m. Jones either (1) discovers Nahtahn is dead or (2) tries to rouse the boy from bed and the boy dies.
- At 8:30 p.m. records show that Jones searched YouTube and then watched the male-on-male rape scene from the movie “American History X.”
- Around 1 a.m., Jones takes 8-year-old Merah with him to a local convenience store to purchase 10 packs of cigarettes. Jones told one of his doctors that he smoked Spice, a synthetic form of marijuana, to calm his nerves
- When he returns home, Jones says he choked Merah and 7-year-old Elias with his bare hands and uses a belt to choke Gabriel and Abigail Elaine. He then wraps the bodies of his five dead children in sheets and blankets from their beds and places them in the back seat of his Escalade.
- On Friday, August 29, he doesn’t answer a call from his father Tim Jones Sr at 7:43 a.m.
- At 9:36 a.m. he doesn’t answer a call from the babysitter Ehlke.
- At 9:38, Ehlke texts Jones to see if he will be dropping off the two youngest children for daycare. Jones texts back “Don’t worry about this morning, I’ll see you next week.” He tells her that the children will return Tuesday (the day after Memorial Day). Data mined from his phone shows Jones has been driving most of the morning — first to Decatur, Ga, at 10:32 a.m.
- Between noon and 2 p.m. Jones’ search history shows him Googling “herbal incense” and “Atlanta.” Spice is legal in South Carolina but illegal in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. Jones is trying to find a smoke shop or head shop where he can purchase he synthetic marijuana out of state.
- 2:17 to almost 3 p.m. Jones refuses calls from his grandmother Roberta Thornsberry. Jones had planned to go to her home in Mississippi for Memorial Day. Data shows Jones is near Moody, Alabama at 2:20 p.m.
- Between 3 and 5 p.m., Jones is searching online for smoke shops in Alabama and Mississippi, and camp sites in South Carolina. Thornsberry continues to call and text throughout the evening — until around 10 p.m. — a total of 23 times
- Data shows Jones was in Lithium Springs, Ga, at 8:04 p.m., then in Washington, Ga, at 10:29 p.m.
- On August 30, Thornsberry begins texting Jones just before noon, finally asking him at 5:13 p.m. “Why aren’t you taking my calls?” Jones does not respond. The phone is located in Red Bank that day.
- 10:08 a.m. August 31, Jones searches for “tent and RV camping in South Carolina,” “South Carolina dumps,” “Lexington County landfills,” and “animal services.” He searches for the lyrics to two songs — Styx’s “Long Arm of the Law” and Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.”
- 4:54 p.m. Ehlke texts Jones to remind him to bring diapers when he drops off Gabriel and Abigail Elaine on Tuesday.
- 6:15 p.m. Tim places a call to Ehlke. He tells her that he has left South Carolina with the children to start over and asks her to clean up his mobile home. In exchange, she can take what she wants from the things he left behind.
- 7 p.m. missed call from Amber
- Sept. 1: a store receipt found in Jones’ vehicle places him in Athens, Ga. Data from the phone also places Jones in Spartanburg and Winnsboro
- At 1:20 a.m., the phone is located in Filly Beach
- 10:35 a.m. Sept 2, Jones Googles “body in landfill,” “muriatic acid burn,” “camping near Columbia SC,” “what does no extradition laws mean,” and “facing legal problems where should you run.” The phone is traced to West Columbia
- Between 11 a.m. and noon, Ehlke and Jones text back and forth about arrangements she has made to clean his Red Bank mobile home
- 11:54 a.m. Jones’ boss at Intel, Jim McConnell, texts him to ask him about not showing up for work
- Around 1:30 p.m., unanswered calls from Saxe Gotha school concerning Merah, Elias and Nahtahn
- 1:53 p.m., unanswered call from McConnell
- The phone is traced to Clinton, SC, at 3:22 p.m.; Athens, GA, at 4:19 p.m.; Lawrenceville, GA, at 6:04 p.m.
- 6 p.m., two unanswered calls from Amber
- 10:08 p.m., a call from Ehlke where she updates Jones on the progress she made in cleaning his house
- 11:32 p.m. an Accuweather search pinpoints Jones’ location in Gray, Georgia — near Macon.
- 10:07 a.m. Sept. 3, two missed calls and one unanswered text from Kevin McKinney, a coworker at Intel
- 12:11 p.m. unanswered call from McConnell
- Receipts found in the Escalade and surveillance videos from Sept. 3 place Jones at the Augusta Road Walmart in Lexington, an Advance Auto store in Lake City, and a Dollar General in Orangeburg. Surveillance video from Walmart shows Jones purchasing a saw, saw blades, muriatic acid, garbage bags, a five gallon bucket, and goggles
- From 5:16 -5:34 pm., unanswered texts from Thornsberry
- When phone is powered on again at 3:37 a.m. Sept. 4, Jones Googles “missing children Tim Jones.” The phone is located near Charleston, on James Island
- Later that morning are unanswered texts from Thornsberry and Saxe Gotha; Jones’ phone is traced to Camden, then Orangeburg at 5:17 p.m.
- At 6:33 p.m. on Sept. 4, Jones is using the Augusta Road ATM in Lexington to deposit a check for $3,518.49 — Intel stock that he sold weeks earlier
- On Sept. 5, Jones’ phone is traced to Louisville, GA, east of Macon
- Sometime on the morning of Sept. 6, Jones places the decomposing bodies of his children in black plastic garbage bags and leaves them in a clearing along a logging road in a rural area between Greenville and Camden, Alabama. The bodies had been in the back seat of Jones’ vehicle since August 29. At 9:14 a.m., the phone is located in Greenville, Alabama
- Receipts found in the Escalade and surveillance videos from Sept. 6 place Jones at the Bypass Food Mart in Camden, Alabama, at 1:06 p.m.
- Around 7 p.m. on Sept. 6, Jones is arrested during a traffic safety stop in Smith County Mississippi. Undersheriff Marty Patterson was called to the scene close to 8 p.m., and described Jones as being under the influence. Patterson noticed a stench coming from the Escalade and noticed bleach stains along the baseboard of the vehicle. After running Jones’ ID and license plate on the car, a hit from the FBI’s National Crime Information Center indicated that Jones should be traveling from Lexington with his five children. Patterson calls Lexington County Sheriffs Department.
- When asked about the whereabouts of his children, Jones first says that he has no children. Then that he has only three children who are in South Carolina. Smith County investigators contact Tim Jones Sr, who then calls Thornsberry and Amber
- Sept. 8, investigative officers from Lexington County Sheriffs Department and SLED arrive in Mississippi
- Sept. 9, Jones agrees to lead investigators to the bodies of his children
- Sept. 10, the bodies of Merah Gracie, Elias, Nahtahn, Gabriel and Abigail Elaine are recovered
- Sept. 11, collected evidence from Jones’ Escalade is handed over to South Carolina authorities. Among the logged items are family photos and articles of clothing, drawings made by the children, letters to the children written by their mother Amber, Bibles, Tim Jones’ diploma from Mississippi State University and Jones’ passport. There are also handwritten notes made by Timothy Jones that are lists of things to do — “melt bodies,” “sand bones to dust or small pieces,” “burn up bodies” — and items that are needed — “camping supplies,” gas,” “M acid.”
- Sept. 13, 2014, Timothy Jones Jr is booked into Kirkland Correctional Facility and placed as a safe keeper, away from the general population.
Since his incarceration, Jones has even seen by mental health professionals, including clinical and forensic psychiatrists and psychologists. There is disagreement among the professionals as to how to diagnose Jones’ mental state — some say he is schizophrenic, bi-polar, he has a schizo-affective disorder, a personality disorder, his mental state at the time of the crime may (or may not) have been enhanced by the use of synthetic marijuana, the traumatic brain injury that he suffered at age 15 contributed (or did not contribute) to an underlying psychosis. All of the theories were presented to the jury during the trial.
The history of the Jones family, going back three generations, was diagrammed and explored in an effort to show how such a chaotic environment and a familial history of suicide and mental illness contributed to Tim Jones Jr’s mental state…
- The jury heard the circumstances surrounding Tim Jones Sr’s conception and birth — Roberta Thornsberry was sexually assaulted by her stepfather and had Tim Sr when she was 12.
- Tim Sr then met and married Tim’s mother Cynthia — who had her own family history of mental illness — and Tim was born when the young couple were just out of their teens.
- After a volatile relationship that ended after Cynthia tried to take Tim away from his father, Tim Sr got custody and Tim Jr was subsequently raised by his grandmother Roberta Thornsberry.
- Tim Sr had Cynthia confined to a mental hospital in New York after she was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
- Thornsberry and her husband’s relationship included calls to the police for shootings, stabbings, drug possession, physical abuse and alcohol abuse.
- Tim Sr divorced Cynthia, married Carolyn and had two more sons — Tim was 9; then divorced Carolyn and married Julie — Tim was 16.
- Throughout the turmoil, Tim Jr did well in school. He did have an incident where he was arrested for stealing a vehicle and drug possession and was sentenced to jail/boot camp. While he was serving time, he found God.
- After his release, he found Amber.
- The teenagers began hanging out together and were married young, adhering to Jones’ Pentecostal beliefs on sex only within marriage.
- The young couple soon had three young children and Tim was attending school in Mississippi. After graduating a community college, Jones pursued an engineering degree at Mississippi State University — he ended up graduating summa cum laude.
- Jones accepted a job at Intel in Blythewood, and moved his family into an older mobile home in Lexington. Amber was pregnant with Gabriel. The first DSS report is filed based on the living conditions inside the aging trailer.
- Tim and Amber’s marriage begins to deteriorate. Amber moves out, Tim starts drinking, smoking and using Spice.
- Amber gives birth to Abigail Elaine on Dec. 12, 2012. Tim is unsure if he is the girl’s father.
- Tim Jr argues with Tim Sr over the 2012 Christmas holidays and doesn’t speak to his father for 18 months. It would be the last time that Tim Sr saw his grandchildren alive.
- DSS is called by school administrators from Saxe Gotha about marks on Nahtahn’s neck and arms in May 2014
- Jones takes the children to meet Thornsberry and her husband in Atlanta in early August 2014
- August 28, 2014, Jones says he is triggered by a suspicion that 6-year-old Nahtahn is trying to kill him by using the electricity in the family’s mobile home. Jones kills his five children.