Mother of five children allegedly killed by father takes the stand in death penalty trial

Updated: May. 20, 2019 at 7:47 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Court proceedings came to a halt and the jury was escorted out of the room as the mother of five slain children sat crying and sobbing uncontrollably while testifying against her ex-husband and alleged killer, Timothy Jones Jr.

Amber Kyzer, mother to Merah, 8; Elias, 7; Nahtahn, 6; Gabriel, 2; and Abigail 1, testified Monday afternoon about her eight-year marriage to Jones, which ended in divorce in 2012.

She testified she met Jones when the pair was 19 and living in Chicago, working at the same children’s arcade. After six weeks of dating, Kyzer testified she and Jones got married, something she attributed to the Pentecostal church the two attended.

“Tim believed women were supposed to be fruitful and multiply,” she testified. “He felt like women should be seen and not heard. Tim was very goal oriented….I’m sorry…very smart, very smart man. Everything that he and set out to do as a goal he accomplished and I found that very honorable. That’s one of the main things that attracted me to him.”

The two moved from Illinois to Mississippi, where Jones attended Mississippi State University. By then, the two already had three children; Merah, Elias, and Nahtahn. When Jones got a job offer at Intel in Columbia, Kyzer testified the family moved to the Batesburg-Leesville area into a “rundown trailer that needed a lot of work.”

They would welcome two more children, Gabriel and Abigail, before filing for divorce in 2012.

Kyzer testified she had no attorney at the divorce hearing and few resources and because she felt Jones was in a better position financially to take care of the children, agreed to let him be the primary caregiver.

“I didn’t want to, but that’s what was easiest,” she said.

She said Jones allowed for supervised visits, usually on Saturdays, at the local Chick-Fil-A. In addition, Kyzer said she bought the children diapers, clothes, toys and often wrote Jones checks for anything the children might need.

When asked if she remembered the night of Aug. 28, 2014, Kyzer became emotional on the stand. She stated she called her children every night at 7 p.m. but said that night was different.

“I called and Tim had it on speaker phone so I could hear my son crying in the background,” she said. “I asked him what was wrong and he told me ‘he didn’t mean to.’ All I could hear was Tim screaming and saying, ‘you could have killed yourself son!”

She told the jury her son sounded as if he was dry-heaving, gasping for air as if he was out of breath. Shortly thereafter, she said Jones hung up on her after getting angry about her “taking the kids side.”

Over the next couple of days, Jones testified to leaving numerous voicemails that went unreturned. Finally, on Sept. 2., Jones answered.

“He sounded intoxicated,” she said. “Happy, but out of it. Definitely different.”

That phone conversation, recorded by Kyzer on her phone, was played for the jury. In it, Jones could be heard slurring his words and Kyzer struggling to understand what he was saying.

Kyzer’s emotions, spilling over after Deputy Solicitor Suzanne Mayes asked the mother to read a letter she had written to her oldest child, Merah, shortly after the divorce.

“Merah, my sweet, sweet daughter. I know your heart feels heavy and you feel really sad sometimes. I want to reassure you sweetheart that you along with your brothers and sister mean everything to me. You kids are my world and mommy and daddy were very blessed to have you. Oh god….I’m sorry, I’m sorry—Merah! God! My babies!”

After being helped off of the stand, the court took a brief recess and when it returned, Kyzer appeared to have regained her composure. After just a few questions from defense attorneys about Jones’ state of mind while the two were together, she stepped down.

Earlier in the morning, Dr. Janice Ross, a forensic pathologist, testified about the autopsies conducted on the five children. She noted one of the children, Elias, 7, suffered a broken hyoid bone in his neck, consistent with strangulation, she testified. Merah, 8, had indications of clotting in the center of her sternum, but Dr. Ross testified decomposition was so advanced, she was unable to determine if it was the result of a blunt force object coming in contact with her chest. Gabriel, 2, had marks on his neck consistent with a belt being placed around it, she testified. Jones previously told investigators he believed his son Nahtahn’s death was an accident due to physical exhaustion. However, the pathologist testified she did not believe the 6-year-old’s death to be accidental and instead ruled it the result of homicidal violence.

Abigail, 1; and her sister Merah, 8; also died of homicidal violence, according to the pathologist’s report.

Decomposition, including the presence of maggots, flies and animal activity were also detected within the autopsy.

Testimony is expected to continue on Tuesday morning.

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