‘He knew what he did was wrong, that’s why he ran,’ opening statements begin in SC father’s death penalty trial

Published: May. 14, 2019 at 7:55 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Less than 10 minutes into opening statements of one of Lexington County’s most notorious crimes, Deputy Solicitor Shawn Graham got choked up, as he described the horrific killings of five children at the hands of their father.

Timothy Jones Jr., 37, is charged with five counts of murder, as investigators say he killed his five children, Mera, 8; Elias, 7; Nahtahn, 6; Gabriel, 2; and Abigail at his Red Bank home in 2014.

On Tuesday, almost five years since the alleged crime, opening statements of the capital case got underway. The prosecution, led by 11th Circuit Solicitor Rick Hubbard, told jurors by the end of the trial, they will have proved Jones acted with malice and knew exactly what he was doing when he killed the children.

“Every time Tim Jones made a choice starting on Aug. 28, 2014, with his son Nahtahn, it was all about him,” Deputy Solicitor Shawn Graham said during opening statements. “What was going to happen to Tim Jones? How was it going to affect him? What did he need to do to protect himself? No thoughts of his children.”

The prosecution painted Jones as an abusive father, who often used physical punishment like push-ups and jumping-jacks, as a form of punishment.

“He knew what he did was wrong—that’s why he didn’t call 911—he knew what he did was wrong, that’s why he ran,” Graham told the jury. “He ran to try to save himself, and he hated his ex-wife so much, he killed them so she would never see them again.”

Graham got audibly choked up when addressing the jury, particularly when talking about the circumstances of the children’s death. The display of emotion prompted the defense to ask the judge to order a mistrial. Prosecutors argued the subject matter in the case is enough to make anyone emotional, including attorneys in the courtroom. Judge Eugene Griffith ultimately denied the request, stating he saw no visible evidence of Graham crying in front of jurors.

Prosecutors pointed to several factors believed to be highlighted by the defense, such as drug use, a traumatic brain injury and mental illness, telling the jury those factors “don’t make him insane.”

Rob Madsen, a member of Jones’ defense team, often referenced an analogy of a forest, urging jurors to not look at just a few of the trees, but the forest as a whole. Citing drug use, a schizophrenia diagnosis, and a crumbling marriage, Madsen told jurors Jones was doing the best he could, maintaining full custody of the children. However, he said the night of their deaths, Jones’ paranoia overcame him.

Earlier in the evening the night of their deaths, Amber Jones, the mother of the five children, told police she called Jones to talk. She told police she could hear him screaming at Nahtahn, 6, in the background, saying “you could have killed yourself, son!” She told police she could hear him referencing a blown electrical outlet in the wall.

“At some point in time, he became convinced that Nathan had intentionally blown the outlets, he began exercising him trying to find out what the truth was,” Madsen said. “Tim was unsuccessful in getting what his delusional truth of what the truth was, out of Nahtahn. For reasons still unknown to this day, we still don’t know why Nahtahn died.”

The prosecution’s view of what happened to the six-year-old differs, as it told jurors the child was beaten to death. His four siblings were then allegedly strangled by their father. Graham said Mera and Elias were strangled by Jones’ bare hands, while Gabriel and Abigail were strangled using a belt.

Madsen told jurors following Jones’ arrest, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and said his mother has been institutionalized for two decades as a result of the mental illness.

“You’ll hear eventually how Tim was on a country highway in Alabama and he pulled off onto a logging road and tried to cut off one of Nahtahn’s legs,” Madsen said. “One of the many notions that the voices told him and that he wrote down. He couldn’t bring himself to do it.”

Jones sat emotionless for much of the prosecution’s opening statements but stopped to wipe his eyes near the end. He is pleading not guilty by reason of insanity.

Witnesses are expected to take the stand beginning at 9 a.m. Wednesday morning. WIS is live streaming the entire trial, which you can watch here.

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