LEXINGTON, S.C. — The mother of the five South Carolina children allegedly killed by their father took the stand Monday, breaking down in tears multiple times as she recalled her children and conversations she had with their confessed killer.
Amber Kyzer was called by prosecutors to testify against her ex-husband, Timothy Jones Jr. Jones is charged with the murder in the killing of his children in 2014: Elaine, 1; Gabriel, 2; Nahtahn, 6; Elias, 7; and Mera Gracie, 8.
She recalled her last conversation with one of her children, and a talk she had with Jones after the children were already dead. (She was unaware of the fact at the time).
Jones has pled guilty by reason of insanity. His guilty plea would allow one of four possible outcomes in the trial: guilty, guilty by reason of insanity, not guilty by mental defect, or not guilty.
Here is a recap of the Amber Kyzer's testimony, and the other witnesses on Day 5 of the trial.
'My babies should still be alive'
Amber hadn’t been in the courtroom up until Monday because, she said, “I can’t handle it.” She began her testimony by being asked to tell the court the birthdates and birthplaces of her children.
Two were of them born in South Carolina, two were born in Mississippi, and the oldest, Mera Gracia, was born in Pennsylvania.
The Jones family relocated to South Carolina in 2011 for Tim’s job at computer programming Intel. She testified that she stayed with the children during the day; Another child, Scarlett Rose Kyzer, was born in August of 2015 with Shawn Kyzer
Amber grew up in Pennsylvania, moved to Chicago, and met Timothy when she was 19 at Enchanted Castle, a children’s fun park in Chicago. She ran the redemption desk with Tim and the couple married after 6 weeks after their first date.
In the Pentecostal church they attended, church members didn’t believe in long dating periods. It was “too enticing to be around each other unmarried,” she said
Tim had a job and attended DuPage College outside of Chicago, studying pediatric medicine.
Amber testified that Tim was very goal oriented, very smart, and everything he set out to do he accomplished, and she found that very honorable.
She was not attending college and has no high school degree.
After DuPage, Tim went to Itawamba Community College in Tupelo, Mississippi; and from there, to Mississippi State University where he got a computer science/engineering degree. The family lived in campus housing with their 3 kids (Nahtahn, Elias and Mera Gracie) while Tim was in school.
When the family relocated to Lexington/Batesburg-Leesville, the family lived in a rundown trailer while he started out making over $60,000 at Intel. She was pregnant with Gabriel and a stay at home mom. None of the kids were at school at this point.
“Women are to be seen and not heard, keep the children out of the way… at one point wanted a farm full of children,” Amber said of her marriage to Tim.
Amber made the decision to leave the marriage when she became involved with her current husband. They’ve been together for eight years, and married for four at this point.
Tim filed first for divorce while Amber was pregnant with Abigail. Tim was tested and proved to be the baby’s biological father.
Amber went to live with her future mother-in-law, while Tim stayed in hotels and with his parents in Mississippi before he rented the mobile home in Red Bank.
The two came to an understanding/arrangement where Tim had primary custody — financially he was the best provider, while she was getting on her feet, but she did not give up her parental rights.
She couldn’t afford lawyer, so she agreed to joint custody with Tim having physical custody of the five children. Visitation was to be supervised by Tim, to placate him, according to her. “I would do anything to see my kids,” she said.
Tim would not allow Amber to visit with the children in the home she shared with her future mother in law. “My children were never going to be with me,” she said.
Amber testified that Tim encouraged her to come back to him, but she did not accept his proposal.
She was eventually able to buy the kids clothing, things they might need for school, and wrote checks for support when she could. Visits usually took place at Chick-fil-A in Lexington. Tim decided when she could see them.
In 2014, she testified, she was able to see them less frequently, sometimes Tim would punish the kids by not allowing the kids to see her.
She became aware of the DSS report on Nahtahn in 2014, although DSS never reached out to her.
The couple had gotten into one routine: Amber would call Tim at 7 p.m. every night in order to talk to the kids.
On Aug 28, 2014, she testifies that she called Tim’s phone as normal.
Tim answered and had it on speaker. She heard Nahtahn crying and asked Nahtahn what was wrong.
Amber said Nahtahn said, "Mom, I didn't mean to."
She said she heard Tim say in the background, “You could have killed yourself son.”
Tim was getting mad. Amber said she was trying to calm the boy down and heard Nahtahn dry heaving. She was asked by Tim why she was always defending the kids. She let him know that she was tired of hearing the kids cry all the time, Tim told her to "Shut the f--- up" and hung up the phone.
Amber said Tim sounded outraged.
She tried calling back 6 or 7 times and got no answer. A phone log shows she called and left voice mails.
Throughout his ex-wife’s testimony, Tim Jones sat still and looked toward the stand.
Prosecutors submitted voicemails that Amber left for Tim on his phone into evidence. Records show she had made calls through Sept 2 to Tim Jones' phone.
On Aug 28, Amber made a call at 7 p.m. He didn’t pick up at 7, 7:02, or 7:05; She called at 7:12 and it was the last time she spoke to Nahtahn; she called back 7:19, after Tim had hung up on her. The call lasted just over 1 minute, until voicemail picked up; Amber called again at 9:34pm and left a message.
Message: “Please call (uninteligible), call me when you get this”
Message: “Tim I’m not calling to argue or anything but you’ve been angry or on edge and I’m just concerned for you. I’m not calling to argue or anything, I just wish that as a parent you’d allow me to correct my children.”
Amber was not concerned when Tim didn’t return calls. She testified it was not uncommon for Tim to disappear for the weekend.
The next time she had a conversation with Tim, Amber said “he was already on the road with my children remains in the car.”
She calls again on Sept 1 (unanswered) and 5:59 p.m Sept 2 (unanwered).
At 6:14 pm on Sept 2, Tim finally picked up. She said he sounded intoxicated to her, happy, but out of it.
Tim didn’t tell her where he was, just that he was moving around a lot.
To Amber, it sounded like he was on something. She said she couldn’t hear her children. She recorded the conversation (in its entirety) on her phone via a smartphone app.
During the call, Tim made sure that Amber thought the kids were alive. It was the last she heard from him. She had no idea the kids were in danger or that he was going to another state.
Still, she was concerned for kids and Tim, and reported them missing.
She and Tim had made arrangements earlier to meet on Sept 6 at Chick-fil-A in Lexington. Amber went to the restaurant, assuming Tim would show up. Law enforcement was waiting for Tim if he did.
He didn’t show and never contacted Amber again.
When asked what attracted her to Tim, Amber said, “He was the smartest person I knew.”
On the stand, Amber was asked if Nahtahn had a favorite toy. It was Woody from “Toy Story.”
She is shown a photo and asked to describe it: “Its’ my son’s Woody doll, in pieces.”
She wrote letters to her three older kids — Mera, Elias and Nahtahn. She said it as if it was her fault for breaking their hearts and breaking up the family home. She personally handed the letters to each of her children.
She testified that the kids knew she loved them.
Amber was asked to read her letter to Mera. The letter has already been entered into evidence as one of the items found in Jones’ Escalade after his arrest.
She starts: “Mera, my sweet, sweet daughter. I know your heart feels heavy… you kids are my world and… mommy and daddy were blessed to have you.”
At that point, Amber broke down, sobbing uncontrollably on the stand, “my babies, my babies, oh God, oh God…”
The jury was taken out of the courtroom as Amber continued to cry.
She was hyperventilating on the stand. “My babies,” she cried over and over, “I miss my babies, I want my babies, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. Why? Why? Help me, help me.”
Tim was unresponsive, sitting at the defense table while Amber was inconsolable.
As she is finally escorted out, she gasped, “my babies should still be alive.”
People in the courtroom were visibly shaken, crying.
After a break, testimony resumed with Amber.
She testified that videos of Mera crying and Elias were sent to her phone by Tim Jones. It was Tim’s voice and Mera on one video. Elias was alone on the second.
On cross-examination, defense attorney Boyd Young asked Amber to go over again how how she and Tim first met. She testified that at that time, he didn’t drink or smoke, and the couple went to church a couple of times a week.
His views on women were those of the church, and she had heard those beliefs before they were married. She and Tim were married in the Pentecostal church, where congregants would sometimes speak in tongues.
A book, Raising Godly Seed, was entered into evidence. Amber testified that it was used as guide to raising their children. She recognizes it (“We violated a couple of things,” she said).
She testified that on the move to South Carolina, Tim’s anger issues got worse.
Amber told Tim Jones Sr. that she thought his son was bipolar, had mood swings, and that talking to Tim was “like walking on eggshells.”
“You really didn’t have to do anything to get him angry. Tim was just angry,” she said. “There were more bad times than good down here.”
Amber testified that Tim believed in corporal punishment but didn’t spank the kids that much, instead using PT (squats and push ups) and having the children write out the problem and ask for forgiveness.
“He was always a good father while we were married.”
The Jones’ divorce was final in Oct 2013.
When asked, Amber testified what she meant by as bipolar is that Tim was “flip-flopping, acting like Jeckyl and Hyde,” not a medical diagnosis.
She left the witness stand shortly afterward.
SLED agent testifies
Earlier on Monday, testimony began with Stephanie Stanley, a SLED (South Carolina Law Enforcement Division) agent specializing in DNA analysis and interpretation.
Jones has admitted to killing his children on Aug. 28, 2014, after picking them up from school and daycare. The killings took place at the family home at 2155-B South Lake Dr. in Red Bank. He was arrested on Sept. 6, 2014, 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’ Escalade.
Jones later told investigators that he had 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 since Aug. 28.
Stanley identified the children using DNA found on items inside of Jones’ Escalade after he was arrested on Sept. 6 in Smith County, Mississippi. She was able to match a DNA swab taken from the handle of a 5-gallon bucket purchased at Walmart to Mera Jones.
A DNA sample from the desiccated skin found in the hatchback of Jones’ Escalade matched DNA of Elias. According to Stanley, the probability of a random DNA sample matching this DNA sample was 1 in 44 billion.
A swab collected in Mississippi that was presumed to be blood from the center console had a DNA profile matching Nahtahn’s. According to Stanley, the probability of a random DNA sample matching this DNA sample is 1 in 24 quadrillion.
A swatch taken from a pillow found in the SUV was found to have a DNA match to Gabriel Jones. According to Stanley, the probability of a random DNA sample matching this DNA sample is 1 in 28 quadrillion
A sample from the reflective sunscreen found in the SUV found DNA matching Abigail. According to Stanley, the probability of a random DNA sample matching this DNA sample is 1 in 34 quintillion.
Sample taken from the belt with the broken belt buckle found in the SUV had samples from two individuals. Analysis showed that DNA samples. DNA profiles showed a mix of two individuals, the major contributor was Gabriel Jones. According to Stanley, the probability of a random DNA sample matching this DNA sample is 1 in 175,000.
Mentally ill or abusive?
Also tesifying was Karen Leonhardt, the school nurse at Saxe Gotha Elementary in Lexington County in 2014. Part of her job was to document the health of the children in attendance. Leonhardt sent cards home for parents to fill out, the cards were then saved on file at the school.
The health cards for Mera, Elias and Nahtahn were entered into evidence. No information was included for the children’s mother, Amber. Emergency contacts were the children’s great-grandmother and a coworker of Jones from Intel.
All three of the health cards note “child in good health.” There were no physical impairments and no prescription drugs listed, and the children were up to date on vaccinations.
Leonhardt testified that Mera saw the nurse 7 times over the years she attended Saxe Gotha. She had issue with Tim Jones on one occasion when Mera had head lice. Jones wanted to use kerosene to get rid of the lice. When Leonhardt suggested using a hair dryer to dry eggs, Tim wanted to use a heat gun. It was this exchange that prompted Leonhardt to make a call to DSS.
Nahtahn had instances of dry skin and itching, but Leonhardt testified that DSS was called for bruising on his body. Nahtahn’s DSS report was made by Amy Shearer, one of his K5 teachers, on May 5, 2014. The report states that Tim Jones was upset with his child, choked Nahtahn, and held him against a wall.
Leonhardt photographed Nahtahn’s bruises around the neck, along the jawline, and on both arms for the record.
The Autopsies: (Warning: graphic descriptions)
Dr. Janice Ross of Newberry Pathology Associates conducted the autopsies. In her role as a forensic pathologist, she decides the cause and manner of death — whether it be natural, an accident, suicide, homicide or undetermined.
On Sept 11, 2014, Ross performed autopsies on the five Jones children. She stated that the black garbage bags in which the bodies were disposed of played a part in the decomposition of the bodies. When the dark colored bags were placed in the sun, it sped up the decomposition process, and the condition of bodies when placed in the bags are not necessarily the condition of bodies Ross sees it at autopsy.
In this instance, after being dead since Aug. 28, the bodies were found over a week later on the evening of Sept. 6. After being tagged and secured, the bodies were then held in cold storage before transportation back to South Carolina and autopsy on Sept. 11.
The first performed on autopsy was on John Doe 1 (Elias): Ross testified that the patient was placed in two body bags that were torn, consistent with animal eating. The boy measured 45 inches in height, and was clothed in short sleeves, a Saxe Gotha shirt and shorts. There was significant decomposition, tissue loss from animal activity, and maggots were present.
Ross’ report includes a diagram of child’s body with handwritten notations: light hair, undetermined eye color, teeth intact; tissue loss at neck; skeletonization at hands, decomposition, skin discoloration, internal organs decomposing, no natural disease, fracture of bone in neck shows strangulation. There were no other fractures; otherwise healthy prior to death.
Ross determined the cause of death: asphyxiation due to manual strangulation; Manner of death: homicide
Jane Doe 2 (Mera): Her body was in in four plastic bags, which had been torn. Her body was naked inside a sleeping bag. There was animal activity present, some tissue loss, and maggot activity.
Ross’ diagram noted tissue loss on her front face, long brown hair, natural teeth, tissue loss over sternum. Her left hand was missing; her left forearm, right forearm and hand, and above right knee shows tissue loss, due to animal activity and decomposition.
An internal exam showed empty stomach, a blood clot on the undersurface of her sternum that may or may not have shown blunt force injury. There no broken neck bones, and that there were signs of possible strangulation.
Ross explains that small children are elastic and to cause asphyxiation on children, either pressure is put on neck or chest to stop or impede breathing and must be maintained for 3 to 5 minutes in order to kill.
Ross determined cause of death: homicidal violence; later Ross amended to probable strangulation; Manner of death: homicide
John Doe 3 (Gabriel): He was found in 3 black plastic bags, opened at the scene, not torn. There was no animal activity, wrapped in comforter and pink sheet, body in underwear. Also in bag was an adult sized shirt with bleach marks, a Hello Kitty diary, a wet diaper (not on the body) and female child sized underwear. Her body displayed decomposition, discoloration, and sloughing of skin. X-rays showed no fractures. On the right side of her neck was an impression that included 2 parallel lines on side of neck indicative of a ligature, made by something wide such as a belt or sash.
Prosecutors showed the jury a belt found in Jones’ SUV. Ross said that it is consistent with the manner of bruising present.
Ross’ diagram notes right leg on body was disarticulated at knee, knee joint cut into; calf separated from foot
Ross determined cause of death: strangulation; Manner: homicide
Jane Doe 4 (Abigail): Her body was in two plastic bags that had been opened at scene. She was wrapped in two sheets, was wearing a diaper. Also in the bag was a receipt from Kangaroo Express. The body had long brown hair, an undetermined eye color, and natural teeth. Decomposition included discoloration and sloughing of skin, no maggots; neck bone intact, empty stomach; no outward signs of strangulation.
Ross determined cause of death: homicidal violence, later amended to probable strangulation; Manner: homicide
John Doe 5 (Nahtahn): His body was wrapped in two bags, open at scene, covered with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comforter. He had brown hair, undetermined eye color, and natural teeth. The tissue loss on his left lower thigh above his knee was close to bone. His bone showed evidence of use of sharp object, such as a saw on the bone. On his left elbow was tissue loss on the back. There was also tissue loss on his knee exposing thigh bone showing incisor injury on left femur.
A photo of left knee entered into evidence and the jury was able to see where a sharp object cut it above knee joint.
Ross’ report continued, saying there was no evidence of natural disease, and that there was a 50cc (1 cup) of food substance (only one with food in stomach)
Ross was asked is it possible to kill a child through physical exertion. She said yes, because a child dehydrates faster, and strenuous activity over a period of time would cause dehydration. She said weakness, disorientation are signs of dehydration and it would take 15-20 minutes/depending on child to present symptoms.
Because of decomposition, Ross couldn’t rule out strangulation. The state of the body made determination difficult, so Ross listed his cause of death initially as undetermined; later, she amended to homicidal violence. Manner: homicide
The defense asked Ross if she was able to determine time of death, specifically if it was on Aug 28. Ross answered that the decomposition of a body cannot determine date of death because of changing conditions in the environment.
But there was nothing inconsistent in evidence to dispute the way that Timothy Jones said it all happened.
At that point, defense lawyers attempted to enter into evidence photos from the Sept. 11 autopsy showing the children’s decomposed bodies. They wanted to do this in order to support Jones’ plea of guilty by reason of insanity (their point: who in a sane mind would ride around for a week with the bodies of their five dead children decomposing in the back seat of the car?)
Judge Griffith did not allow the jury to see photos at this time. He had made an in camera ruling earlier in the morning saying the photos had no probable value, they are graphic in nature, and inaccurate and not representative of the condition of the bodies when they were found on Sept. 6.
Last week, on Friday, May 17, jurors heard the 45-minute taped interview with Jones and David Mackey, a FBI field agent, while Jones was in custody at the Smith County Sheriff’s Office in Mississippi.
During the interview, Jones admitted that he killed his children but blames 6-year-old Nahtahn for his actions, saying that if the boy had just “come off it” and told his father what had happened to several blown outlets inside the family home that all of his children would still be alive.
Jones said Nahtahn’s death was accidental, as a result of Jones pushing him too hard physically — making the boy do squats and pushups — while trying to get the boy to tell him what had happened to the blown outlets in the mobile home.
When the afternoon session began, witnesses were called to verify the chain of evidence in the case — specifically the Samsung Galaxy 3 phone found in Tim Jone’s Escalade after his arrest in Smith County Mississippi.
>>>>>>>>>> THE CHAIN OF EVIDENCE
Shelby Derrick was employed as crime scene investigator with Lexington County Sheriffs Department in 2014.
On Sept. 9 at 10:15 a.m., Derrick testified that she went to the Jones home in Red Bank and executed a search warrant and began photographing the exterior and interior of the family’s home.
Photos showed pill bottles and bags of medication, blister packs of Chantix (a prescription medication for smoking cessation), and some photographs show a collection of books.
Investigators for the defense collected items from Jones’ house and held them until trial, the prosecution had hot been able to examine the objects (books and tapes of religious nature; the books are said to have highlighted passages on how to raise and discipline children).
Asked if Derrick saw a number of religious books and paraphernalia, she testified that she did at one point lay out and photograph them. She also photographed the electrical outlets and breaker box in mobile home.
On Sept. 23, Derrick drove to Atlanta to pick up evidence from Jackson, Mississippi, FBI Agent Bodies. The sealed evidence, in part, included a Samsung Galaxy 3 cell phone.
Once transferred custody, all of the evidence bought back to Lexington and logged into the Lexington County Sheriffs’ evidence room on Sept. 25, 2014.
Also testifying was Candy Kyzer, an evidence custodian at the Lexington County Sheriffs Department since 2003. She tracked pieces of evidence in and out of the Sheriffs Department via computer (barcode tracking) and signature.
Tracks the intake of Jones’ Samsung Galaxy 3 phone on Sept 25, 2014, and held until Jan 7 2015 when taken out and returned by Mike Phipps, then back out to Phipps for 15 days until signed back in; Sept 28, 2017, signed out to Det Adam Creech who takes it to Brent Dobe for testing, comes back Dec 4 2018
LT David Brent Dobe has conducted forensic examinations of electronic devices for SLED for 11 years and is also an evidence custodian at SLED
He testified that the Samsung Galaxy 3 phone came to SLED Sept 28 via Lexington County Sheriffs Deputy Creech. The phone was entered into inventory, the serial numbers recorded and evidence bag sealed and secured in SLED’s evidence vault.
Oct 13, 2017, Dobe removed and examined for logical examination then returned it to storage. On Jan 13, 2018, phone was signed out to forensic experts for the defense. July 31 2018.
If found guilty, the death penalty would not be automatic. Jurors would then be asked to consider extenuating circumstances and could sentence Jones to life without parole rather than death.
Court will resume at 8:30 Tuesday morning in the Lexington County Courthouse.