LEXINGTON, S.C. — The Timothy Jones Jr. murder trial resumed late Tuesday morning after an emotional Monday afternoon in the Lexington County Courthouse.
Jones is charged with murder in the killing of his five children back in 2014. He is pleading not guilty by reason of insanity.
Most of the morning was used to tape witness testimony that may be used later in the trial.
The two witnesses that the jury did hear before breaking for lunch were Jackson, Mississippi, field agent Cynthia Bode and digital forensic examiner Vickie Roberts. The two were there to verify the unbroken chain of custody of the electronic devices collected from Jones’ Esacalade at the time of his arrest on Sept. 6, 2014, in Smith County, Mississippi, until the evidence was turned over to law enforcement officers in South Carolina on Sept. 23 and Sept. 24, 2014.
JONES SENT TO PRISON TO AWAIT TRIAL
The prosecution called two corrections officers — Lt Travis Pressley and Officer Benjamin Boyd — from Kirkland Correctional Facility in Columbia.
For his safety, Timothy Jones Jr.was transferred to Kirkland’s maximum security wing as a “safe keeper” inmate from Lexington County Jail on Sept 14, 2014, days after his arrest.
Pressley is the inmate intake supervisor in the maximum security part of the prison. When Jones comes in to Kirkland, part of the intake process is that the prisoner is strip searched, fingerprinted, his hair is cut, and the prisoner is issued a new uniform.
Pressley says that after he asked Jones about how his transport went, Jones begins to tell Pressley what happened to the children on Aug. 28.
Pressley has been trained in Crisis Intervention Training Skills (CITS), a method used to calm prisoners down, and de-accelerate crisis condiitons. let them talk. Part of the training is to let the inmate talk — not ask the inmate what happened to get him arrested, just let them talk.
Pressley testifies that Jones began to get nervous, started crying and apologizing, and according to Pressley, Jones said he was “sorry for what he did, he knew it was wrong.”
Pressley testifies that Jones described situation at the Jones home on Aug. 28 — “one son messing with socket and Tim got angry and placed arms around son’s neck; Jones says his hands were too big and so he used belt, one of the daughters walked in, he grabbed her and choked her so hard she turned purple.”
Pressley testifies that he had been told to write things down what inmates say in an incident report. There were others around and other inmates to take care of so Pressley couldn’t write immediately what Jones had said, but he did so an hour later, after Jones was processed. Pressley testifies that an hour fell within acceptable time.
On cross examination by defense attorney Boyd Young asked Pressley: During CITS training you are told how to write reports that were truthful, accurate and reliable?
Pressley responds that each officer writes individual incident reports.
Officer Boyd, Sgts Hawkins and Strohman and another were present at approximately 2:20 pm, Pressley wrote his report at 3:30, an hour later.
In the report, Pressley writes “the older son was messing with the electrical socket” and Jones strangled him. Defense wants clarification of handwriting does it say “older” or "oldest”
Pressley says “older”, that he had to rush writing the report and apologizes for the sloppy handwriting. Pressley never wrote a supplemental report, and never heard anything about the kids plotting to cut Tim up and feed him to the dogs.
Jones had medical and mental examinations on Sept 14 that Pressley did not know of.
Pressley testifies there was a lot going on that day, they were shorthanded on staff and there are different areas at Kirkland; the medical professionals could have seen Jones before he was placed in cell without Pressley knowing.
Next up in the witness stand is Officer Benjamin Boyd. He has been at Kirkland for 7 years, and 2 years at Manning before that/
Boyd testifies that he and Pressley were there when Jones brought in. Boyd was outside when the Lexington County Sheriffs van pulled up. A Lexington County sheriff deputy got out of the van, then Jones got out of the van and Boyd escorted Jones into maximum security after lunchtime, around 2:20pm.
Boyd testifies Jones became emotional when the doors to the facility closed behind him, he crying a little bit.
Pressley and Hawkins executed a strip search on Jones, checked Jones’ personal items from Lexington County, sat Jones on metal chair, gave him new clothes, and put Jones in chains, before Jones is sent to medical.
Boyd testifies he heard Jones say “son was messing with electrical outlet” and Jones “choked him.”
On the stand, Boyd said Jones raised his hands as to show how he strangled the child, then Boyd said he heard Jones say “my daughter walked in.”
Boyd wrote his report at 3:30 pm; nothing in Boyd’s report about a daughter, only that Jones “killed his kids with his bare hands.”
Boyd testified that there was another inmate designated “safe keeper” also on the wing at Kirkland during the time Jones was there.
ARCHIVAL PHONE RECORDS: FOR THE PROSECUTION
After an extended break, prosecution called investigator Michael Phipps, a digital forensic examiner with the Lexington County Sheriffs Office. His job is to examine anything digital that has data that might have relevant to a case.
Phipps is shown the Samsung Galaxy 3 phone that was taken into evidence from Jones; vehicle on Sept. 6
The investigator testifies when he first gained possession of the device and when he began extracting records from the phone. He explained the process of extraction to the court: There are three types of extraction methods:
- Logical, what you see on the phone when it is active
- File, takes the logical format a step further using file structures and third party apps
- Physical, bypasses the device’s operating system to get to the flash memory and raw data (in binary form) on the device.
Phipps used an universal forensic extraction devise to acquire data without altering it. The data is then processed later to make it readable and usable for an analysis of photos, text messages, incoming and outgoing calls, instant messages, and more.
Phipps collected data from the Samsung Galaxy 3 phone from 7:51 a.m. Aug. 28 to 12:58 p.m. Sept. 4.
A sampling of the calls on the data report includes:
- Tim Jones’ first call of record on the morning to his father Tim Jones Sr that lasted 4 minutes, 47 seconds
- Missed calls (not picked up) from Amber Jones, Tim’s ex-wife and the mother of his five children at 7 p.m., 7:02, 7:05, 7:09
- An incoming call from Amber that was answered at 7:12 p.m., lasting 1 minute, 10 seconds (according to Amber’s testimony on Tuesday, this was the call where she heard Nahtahn hyperventilating and Tim getting angry in the background. Tim would hang up on Amber, ending the call)
- Missed calls from Amber recorded at 7:14; 7:16, 7:19 p.m.
- 8:30pm Youtube search using keywords “American History X rape scene”
- Calls from Amber that were missed (at 9:16 p.m.), unanswered (9:34), rejected (9:42, Tim saw the incoming call but swiped to reject picking up the call), and missed (9:57 p.m.)
August 29 (the day after the murders)
- A missed call from Tim Jones Sr at 7:43 a.m.
- A missed call from the Jones’ babysitter Christina Ehlke at 9:36 a.m. This call would set of a series of back-and-fort texts between Tim Jones and Ehlke from 9:36 to 10:57 a.m. Ehlke is asking Tim why the two youngest children haven’t shown up at her house that Friday morning. Tim messages back that the children will be back on Tuesday and Ehlke wishes the family a happy Memorial Weekend.
- At 12:11 p.m. Tim Jones begins web searches on his phone, Googling keywords “herbal incense near Atlanta GA.” From this search Phipps was able to track Jones’ searches of individual head shops in Atlanta and in Decatur and Birmingham, Alabama.
- Throughout the afternoon, Jones also searches “herbal incense illegal in Alabama,” "herbal incense illegal in Mississippi,” “camp grounds and reservations”
- During this time, Jones is not accepting calls or texts from the children’s great grandmother Roberta Thornsberry. According to the records, Thornsberry tried calling Jones on 18 different occasions and texted Jones 7 times. Jones finally texted back at 6:40 p.m. “Sorry, tied up today” and 6:41 p.m. “Not going to be able to make it today”
- Thornsberry starts texting at 11:57 a.m., trying to get Tim to call her. Her last text to him that day is at 5:13 p.m. “Why aren’t you taking my calls?”
- Tim has been doing some web searches on his phone, Googling “Camden, SC,” “tent and rv camping in SC parks”
- At 10:13 a.m. Jones searches for South Carolina dumps and hits on the Lexington County website for dumps, landfills and animal services
- Jones also searches for song lyrics to Styx’s “Long Arm of the Law” and Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”
- Ehlke texts Jones at 4:54 p.m. to remind Jones to bring diapers for the children she expects to see the next day; Jones reads the text and responds after 6:15 p.m. with a 7 minute call that he’s moved the family out of state.
- Amber calls at 7 p.m. and Jones does not pick up
- Phone activity starts at 10:53 a.m. with Jones searching keywords “body in landfill.” Throughout the morning Jones will search for muriatic acid; muriatic acid burns; camping near Columbia, SC; “what does extradition mean;” and “facing legal problems where should you run”
- Ehlke texts around 11 a.m. and Tim makes arrangements for her to clean his house so he can get his deposit back from their mutual landlord
- Jim McConnell, Jones’ boss at Intel begins texting, then calling, after Tim didn’t show up for work on Tuesday
- Saxe Gotha Elementary begins calling about the three oldest children missing from school
- Amber calls at 5:59 (missed) and at 6:04 when Tim picks up. During the ensuing 7 minute call, Tim leads Amber to believe that the children are still alive even though he refuses to let her talk to them.
- There’s another call from Ehlke a little after 10 p.m. Ehlke testified in court that this is when she updated him on arrangements she made for His House charity organization to take what he left behind in his Red Bank mobile home
- At 11:32 p.m., Accuweather locates the phone near Gray, Georgia.
- Missed calls and texts from Kevin McKinney, McConnell at Intel, Saxe Gotha, Martha Reyes and Thornsberry. Thornsberry’s texts grow increasingly alarmed with her begging Tim to call her back.
- The phone is powered off at some point and turned on early in the morning of September 4. At 3:37 a.m. Sept. 4, the phone is active. At 3:47 a.m., Tim Jones Googles “missing children Tim Jones”
ARCHIVAL PHONE RECORDS: FOR THE DEFENSE
The defense team must prove that Tim Jones was insane on August 28 when he killed his children. To help build that case, they also used archival data pulled from Jones’ Samsung phone.
Attorney Brad Young asks about the complete call log extracted from the phone. Phipps testifies that the complete data dump contained 24,750 data points or archives. From those files, the prosecution is using a select 1,000.
Other files found on the phone that the defense hopes to help bolster their claim date from May 2014 and include texts from a former babysitter to Tim about disciplining the children; his responses are religious-themed, suggesting Mera write “I will use my hands to make good, not trouble;” searches for Amber’s name and phone number on prostitution sites (he thought she was cheating on him); and texts from Amber where she and Tim argue about the children.
ARCHIVAL PHONE RECORDS: on Prosecution’s re-direct
Deputy Solicitor Shawn Graham asks Phipps, “On page 4, you were asked about May 25, 2014, searches. What were they again?”
Phipps responds “YouTube content about “A Beautiful Mind,” a movie about a schizophrenic.” Other searches about schizophrenia follow, including searches for “schizophrenic person talking,” “schizophrenic person seeing people,” and the trailer for “A Beautiful MInd.”
Jones’ next are outgoing texts after these searches are to Amber at 5:57pm May 25, “something is bothering me about Mera, she’s saying some creepy stuff.”
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’ car.
Jones had left the children’s bodies in plastic trash bags in a wooded area outside of Camden, Alabama. He had been traveling throughout the South with the bodies in the back of his car since Aug. 28.
Tim 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. 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.
Monday, Jones’ ex-wife Amber broke down on the stand after testifying about the last phone call she had with her son Nahtahn on Aug. 28. During the call, she said she could hear Tim Jones in the background getting angry with their 6-year-old son.
Tim cut the call short and Amber never again heard from any of her children. They were dead by morning.
Amber was asked to read a letter she had written to her oldest daughter, 8-year-old Mera. She began reading “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” before she started to cry uncontrollably.
The jury was lead out of the courtroom as the children’s mother cried “my babies, my babies, oh God, oh God…”
Amber began hyperventilating on the stand and cried “My babies,” 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 Jones sat unresponsive 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 Monday afternoon were visibly shaken, some crying.
Testimony is scheduled to resume Wednesday morning in the Lexington County Courthouse.