LEXINGTON COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - The father of the Lexington County man accused of killing his children said his son always teetered between genius and insanity, born to a mother with severe mental illness who neglected him as a child.
Tim Jones Sr., testified in front of the jury for more than three hours on Wednesday, detailing his son’s troubled upbringing in an unstable home. His testimony laced with frequent profanity prompted Judge Eugene Griffith to step in and ask him to stop.
Jones Sr.’s testimony began by telling the jury about his relationship with Jones Jr.’s mother, Cynthia. He testified they began dating when they were 16 and got pregnant shortly thereafter.
“Cynthia acted erratically once Timmy was born,” he said. “I went to sleep with my eyes open.”
He told the jury she bathed him in cold water, deprived him of food and screamed at him while crying, often refusing to hold him. He testified his wife would disappear for months at a time with Jones Jr., often leaving the state. He told the jury he tried to check his wife into a mental health facility, but after spending only a week there, checked her back out because he “couldn’t take it.”
Eventually, Jones Sr. filed for divorced from his wife and was granted custody of Jones Jr. when he was around the age of 2.
After getting custody of Jones Jr., Jones Sr. testified he moved into his parent’s house, who helped him raise his son while he continued to work. However, he admitted drug and alcohol use was “off the rails” while they were living there and said Jones Jr. was subjected to domestic violence taking place in the home.
He told the jury about his son’s car accident when he was 15, which resulted in a traumatic brain injury. Despite the accident, Jones Sr. said he didn’t notice any differences in his son’s behavior or thinking, other than attributing slight changes to being “a teenager.”
Jones spent time in prison while living in Illinois for possession of a stolen vehicle and a related drug charge. His dad said when he was released, he was obsessed with religion and teachings of the Bible.
“He went and joined this church and that place was a damn cult,” Jones Sr. said.
Jones Sr. described a tumultuous relationship with his son during adulthood, often making trips to South Carolina to help his son do restorative work on a trailer he purchased upon getting a job at Intel in Columbia.
“That place needed a lot of work,” he said. “I own a small construction company, so I came down here a week and worked hard to help him fix it up.”
Jones Jr. would bring his children to Mississippi to visit with their grandparents, as long as he and his father were on good terms, Jones Sr. testified.
“December 2012 is the last time I saw my babies alive,” Jones Sr. told the jury. “He was mad at me….I didn’t talk to him again until a few days before the kids died, trying to make plans for them to visit for Labor Day.”
When law enforcement officers took Jones into custody in Mississippi in September of 2014, they reached out to Jones Sr. to see if he could help talk to his son and get information about the children’s whereabouts.
“We all sat and talked and they still had nothing, well, though they had nothing, so we discussed where Timmy might take the kids,” he said.
When he finally saw his son at the Smith County Sheriff’s Office, Jones Sr. told the jury he barely recognized him.
“He (the sheriff) asked me when we left, do you know that boy and I was like, I don’t know who the hell that was, he was off the charts, ranting and raving, it wasn’t my son,” Jones Sr. said. “ I tried being nice to him, I tried making him mad…just to tell us where the kids are because he’s talking crazy stuff like I dropped them off at Walmart, a couple of seconds later he kicked them out of the car while it was moving…it’s just like…what the hell is wrong with you man?”
As deputies and FBI agents continued to question Jones Jr., his father testified he still had hope the children were alive, until one officer made an unexpected move.
“Someone, I don’t know who it was, jumped up and yelled, ‘there’s a substantial amount of blood in that car, where the hell are the kids?’” he testified. “That’s when I knew because I had been told a little blood, to hear it was substantial…”
As Jones’ defense team continues to plead its insanity case, Jones Sr. pleaded with the jury to recognize the mental illness he said exists within the family.
“This is the Tim I was scared I was going to see one day,” he said. “He’s got some relatives and his mother, unfortunately, they’re not right and I seen his mother go through it, I seen her brothers, Eddie, Chris, Arthur, Domingo killed himself, it’s just bad DNA. He’s sick, man.”
Jones Sr. is expected to take the stand once again Thursday morning to continue testifying.
Wednesday morning, several of the family’s former babysitters testified, offering mixed reviews about Jones Jr.’s parenting skills.
“Tim was a very good father from the time we had those kids, I never had no problem communicating with Tim, if he was my children’s father…I would have him as my children’s father,” Ruby Durney, who babysat the children in 2011, said. “He was very punctual with his kids and his kids loved him when he would pick them up at 6 or 6:30 depending on traffic, they were glad when their dad picked them up from the house.”
But Joy Lorick, the children’s most recent babysitter, painted a different picture for the jury. She described family trips to Myrtle Beach and Disney World during the summer of 2014 and how she witnessed Jones spank Elias, 7; and Gabriel, 2; with a belt while on the trip. She also testified on the way to Florida, Jones threatened to pull the car over and have the children do squats if they didn’t behave in the car.
Some of the most powerful testimony, coming as Lorick described some of her alleged conversations with the children at their Red Bank home.
“I just remember me feeding them oatmeal all day and I remember a certain time when they told me—he was getting off of work and they kept asking for oatmeal all day, so I fed them, any kid asking for food I’m going to feed them, I don’t care when they last ate I’m going to feed them,” she said. “I remember them telling me, Ms. Joy could you not tell him you just fed us because he may not feed us again and I said, I would never do that to ya’ll.”
She also testified to witnessing Jones force two of the older children to do curl-ups with a bedpost as punishment for misbehaving. The alleged physical abuse, also witnessed by Jones’ ex-girlfriend Crystal Ballentine, who told the jury Jones’ way of punishing his kids became a source of contention in their relationship.
“The way he would whip them, you could hear it through the bathroom walls,” she said. “I could hear them asking him to stop.”
During her time on the stand, Ballentine recanted many of her statements previously made to law enforcement shortly after the children went missing. At that time, she told police she often heard Tim talking to himself as if someone else was in the room with him. While on the stand, she said the officer who took her statement misunderstood, clarifying she never saw any indication Jones was mentally ill and believed he may have been on speakerphone with someone when she heard a voice in the neighboring room.
Jones could face the death penalty if convicted.