LEXINGTON, S.C. — The defense has begun presenting its case in the trial of Timothy Jones Jr., the man charged with murder in the death of his five children.
Jones is accused of killing the children in August of 2014 in Lexington County, SC, dumping their bodies in Alabama, and then driving to Mississippi before his ultimate arrest.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, while the defense is arguing that Jones is not guilty by reason of insanity.
After seven days of testimony and over 30 witnesses, the prosecution rested its case Wednesday morning.
Before it did, the day began with testimony from 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 was in court to testify about the archival evidence found on the Samsung Galaxy 3 phone found in Jones’ Escalade at the time of his arrest on Sep. 6 in Smith County, Mississippi.
On Tuesday afternoon, Phipps went through the text messages and web searches found on the phone, and the log of incoming and outgoing calls made to the phone during the period of the morning of Aug. 28, 2014, to Sept. 5, 2014. During that time, there were multiple calls and texts made to Jones from his ex-wife Amber, Tim Jones Sr., the children’s great grandmother Roberta Thornsberry, the children’s babysitter, and Jones’ boss at Intel that were logged as missed or rejected by Jones.
Some of the web searches on the phone were on topics of extradition; bodies in landfills; where synthetic marijuana was legal or illegal; camping sites near Columbia and Camden, SC; and where to flee to if you are in legal trouble.
The Prosecution Rests
Wednesday morning, Deputy solicitor Shawn Graham began where he left off on Tuesday, asking Phipps about a search item presented by the defense on cross-examination.
The search item in question is “A Beautiful Mind” movie trailer, searched for at 5:20 p.m. on May 25, 2014. Immediately after that search are keyword searches for “schizophrenia patient,” “schizophrenia talking,” “schizophrenia seeing people,” “schizophrenia A Beautiful Mind.”
Later, at 5:57 p.m., Jones texts to Amber: Something is bothering me about Mera, she’s saying some creepy stuff
At 7:02 p.m., Jones texts Amber: Call me late tonight something you really need to hear.
Phipps is asked about a note found on the cell phone from 10:21 p.m. on July 7: Time to work on me: 7 things I think are fantastic in the morning.
A searched item history from 5:42 p.m. July 20, 2014, uses keywords/phrases “Betrayal by my young children”; google: “I feel betrayed by my young son, what should I do,” by The Globe newspaper
At 5:44 pm the same day: “father betrayed by young children”
At 5:49 p.m.: “my mom betrayed me by cheating my dad”
When asked, Phipps found no keyword search that Jones may have done that included “afraid of children” or “children planning to harm to me.”
A multimedia message sent out 11:08 p.m. on Aug. 19, 2014, is titled “snapshot of my admission letter” to Tyler and Travis Jones (also at 8:34 p.m. to Larry and Roberta Thornsberry) text was a photo of Jones’ letter of acceptance to medical school in the Caribbean.
A search at 11:22 p.m. on Aug. 26, 2014, uses keywords/phrases “grants for becoming medical doctor,” and “how/where to get grants for medical school.”
Defense Boyd Young on cross asks Phipps about a photo from Jones’ phone from 5/17/14 of two children crouched down in front of a lobster tank as a sample of what is found on phone. Defense may enter other photos into evidence when they begin to present their case.
Defense Gets Underway
As the defense team begins to mount its case, Judge Griffin tells the jury that to expect. The State has presented all of their evidence, the defense will now begin.
The State has to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.
The defense may rely on the preponderance of evidence.
Defense Boyd Young begins by handing out copy of transcript of taped testimony from Dr. Travis Snyder, neuro-radiologist with expertise in diagnosis from X-rays, CTs, and MRIs of brain, spine, head and neck. Snyder practices in Las Vegas, and has been certified as an expert witness in at least 10 trials. He works for SimonMed and researches traumatic brain injury in addition to private practice and providing expert testimony.
Images of scans of Jones’ skull and brain are part of the transcript presented to the jury.
Snyder was contacted by Jones’ defense teamed was asked to look at MRIs of Jones made on April 20, 2018, at Palmetto Richland in Columbia.
Snyder’s shares his findings in a report: High quality MRI, very good quality exam with correct sequences for diagnosis, 15 different sequences provided.
The doctor testifies that the most striking image is on Slide 1. It is a frontal view front to back of Jones’ skull. It shows a depressed area on the left part of the skull that is a fracture going down to the mid-part of the skull. In Snyder’s opinion, the condition is abnormal, unusual, most likely resulting from trauma.
Slide 2: This shows a closer look of the skull fracture. This sequence shows hemorrhages (at least 3), which are not expected, under the fractured portion of the skull.
Hemorrhages usually resolve themselves over time and Jones probably had more of them if the fracture was caused by severe trauma. The damage could cause disruption of signals in brain.
Snyder’s 3rd finding: looking at the combined effects of the hemorrhages and skull fracture;. This is what is called a susceptibility sequence. This scan is 4 to 6 times more sensitive than previous sequences.
The frontal cortical shows thinning and scarring; the area of brain where it sits under skull fracture near hemorrhages, in upper left, the MIR shows a thinning cortex, almost absent; the chromo-emission flair sequence shows a blurry cortex, likely post-traumatic, sometimes seen in schizophrenic disorders
On the 4th slide: mid portion of the brain almost at ears; ventricle normal; hippocampus (temporal lobe) on the right side is smaller than left hippocampus, this is abnormal. It is consistent with history of head trauma; compared to “normal” hippocampus, Jones has atrophy — or injury — on right
On slide 5: it shows the hippocampus that connects the brain through the fornix; the scan shows atrophy, associated with the atrophy in the hippocampus.
On slide 6: The hippocampus is one of the most sensitive/earliest area of the brain to show damage following head trauma. This is well accepted and documented by peer-review.
The doctor testifies Jones’ condition is consistent with head trauma. The injuries are in positive relation to schizophrenia — meaning not a direct cause and effect but may have similar symptoms; also present on the scan is the thinning of corpus callosum — the structure that connects left and right sides of the brain.
Injury to this area may present symptoms similar to schizophrenic disorder, but Jones needs clinical diagnosis to say with certainty that he might be schizophrenic.
The nature of Jones’ injury is classified as (mild/moderate/severe) moderate or perhaps severe, Snyder would need Jones’ medical records (unprovided).
In his examination of Jones’ MRI, Snyder concludes that there exists:
- Large depressed skull fracture over left frontal lobe
- Decreased signals controlling brain functions
- Left frontal cortical thinning and scarring
- Right hippopotamus atrophy (injury), and right fornix atrophy (injury).
Snyder testifies to what is significant — the frontal lobe injuries present symptoms that include cognitive problems, lower intelligence and IQ, personality changes, memory problems, and behavioral problems.
With injuries such as these, generally, a patient can have severe emotional or memory problems but seem to be high functioning, or the reverse; Snyder testifies symptoms manifest themselves differently in each patient.
Based on images with injuries such as Jones’, the patient can go to college and graduate but there may by deficits in some other areas. Snyder is not diagnosing Jones as schizophrenic but states that Jones has brain injuries that could point to schizophrenia.
On cross examination by the State, Deputy solicitor Shawn Graham has Snyder state that he was asked to review Jojnes’ MRIs in order to look for abnormalities.
Graham told Snyder that Jones’ injuries were the result of an accident Jones had when he was 15-years-old.
Snyder not surprised.
The doctor testifies Jones probably had abnormalities for a long time. The cortical thinning and hippopotamus atrophy are close to the trauma area and therefore probably due to that injury, not schizophrenia
Snyder goes on to testify that an MRI cannot reliably diagnose schizophrenia, even though findings on MRIs can show positive correlation between injuries and schizophrenia.
Symptoms from brain trauma can manifest immediately, some may manifest over time.
Snyder didn’t know what Jones’ brain looked like before the skull fracture, therefore it is possible that Jones could have had symptoms for a long time. Cognition could be tested in may ways — if Jones was doing well in school then he may not have had cognitive issues due to brain injury.
In Snyder’s opinion, schizophrenia has no known cause: it could be genetics, environment, or any number of causes but it is not an accepted medical fact that schizophrenia is caused by brain injury.
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.
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.