‘He was a good person’: Grandmother of SC man accused in children’s slayings testifies

Updated: May. 24, 2019 at 6:32 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - The grandmother of a Lexington County man accused of brutally killing his children in 2014 took the stand in his defense on Friday, telling the jury stories of his troubled upbringing and mentally ill mother.

Roberta Thornsberry is the paternal grandmother of Timothy Jones Jr. and testified to serving as his primary caregiver during his childhood. As a baby, she told the jury Jones was neglected by his mother, who often deprived him of food, bathed him in cold water, and left him in soiled diapers for hours. After several attempts to kidnap Jones and run away, Thornsberry said her son, Jones’ father, received custody and Jones’ mother was institutionalized for schizophrenia.

“She is nuttier than a fruitcake, a bed bug, whatever you want to call it,” Thornsberry said.

She testified to caring for Jones while his father was working but admitted to the jury alcohol and drug use plagued the family home, often resulting in frequent visits from police — something Jones was exposed to at an early age.

When Jones was 15, he suffered a traumatic brain injury after being involved in a car accident, but Thornsberry told jurors she did not notice any differences in Jones’ behavior after the wreck, testifying he continued to score above the state average on standardized tests while in high school.

When he was 19, Jones went to prison for several convictions including drug possession and, when he got out, his grandmother said she noticed a big shift in his life.

“Religion, he couldn’t talk to you without relating it to the Bible,” she said. “He tried to tell me my church and my beliefs wouldn’t get me into heaven, he really forced religion on you.”

While living in Mississippi, Jones attended Mississippi State University and was married to his then wife Amber and had three children at the time.

“We were very proud of him,” she said. “He was a good person.”

After Jones moved to South Carolina, he still visited family in Mississippi with his children and wife, but as time went on, those visits became fewer and fewer, she testified. The last visit, in early August of 2014, took place mere weeks before investigators say Jones killed his children. A day trip to Atlanta, Thornsberry was excited to see her grandson and his children.

“We woke up the next day and were expecting to do something with the kids, but he had already checked us out and said he needed to get home,” she said. “If I had thought something was wrong, I’d had to fight him or whatever or call the police or whatever I would have never let him touch those kids if I thought they were in danger.”

Jones became emotional at times during the testimony, listening to his grandmother recount stories from both his childhood and adult life. The defense has called nine witnesses so far as it pleads its insanity case.

Testimony will resume at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

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