LEXINGTON COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - A court-appointed psychiatrist testified Thursday Timothy Jones Jr. knew legal and moral right from wrong when he allegedly strangled his children at his Red Bank home in 2014.
Jones is pleading not guilty by reason of insanity, pointing to voices in his head that he alleges told him to kill his children. His mother is a diagnosed schizophrenic and several other family members suffer from mental illness, according to his defense.
Early on in the trial, the jury heard testimony from several psychiatrists and physicians called by the defense, who testified it is their opinion Jones is suffering from schizophrenia based on their analysis of interviews, family history, and medical documents. They also testified the traumatic brain injury Jones suffered as a teenager, in their opinion, had an adverse effect on some of his cognitive skills, particularly those comprised in the frontal lobe, where the depressed skull fracture is located.
On Thursday, the jury heard testimony painting a different picture, from a court-appointed psychiatrist who was assigned to the Jones case by the state of South Carolina. In doing so, Dr. Richard Frierson was asked to perform a competency mental evaluation on Jones to see if he was fit to stand trial. He testified he met with Jones six times between 2016 and March of this year, for a total of 19 hours of observation.
In each of their interviews, Dr. Frierson said Jones was taking anti-psychotic medication. He was also very open and forthcoming in their interactions, he testified.
“He reported to me the death of Nahtahn was accidental, that he was exercising him to try to get him to confess to blowing some electrical outlets in the house,” Frierson said. “He exercised him, spanked him and sent him to bed early. One version was he went back into his bedroom and found him dead, the other version was he went back in and shook him and he collapsed, but he said he didn’t intent to him.”
Frierson told the jury Jones then said he went into a “mad panic” as he tried to figure out what to do next. He considered calling 911, Frierson testified but decided not to because he was afraid the police would hold him responsible for his son’s death.
“He told Merah and Eli that he thought Nahtahn was dead and Merah said he wasn’t breathing,” Frierson said. “He then told me he sent them to go watch TV.”
In the early morning hours of Aug. 29, 2014, Frierson said Jones drove to the convenience store to buy cigarettes, taking his daughter Merah with him, as his oldest son Elias stayed at home.
“On the way home he heard “a demonic voice” that told him to kill the kids,” Frierson said. “He described the voice as being inside his head, brief and not prolonged.”
Jones then told Frierson, “I thought it was better for me to take their lives, I cut off their windpipes, kissed them and took their lives.”
The psychiatrist told the jury based on subsequent interviews with Jones, it was his opinion that Jones felt “morally justified” as a result of children’s deaths.
“His thought processes were, he described it to me, Amber didn’t want them, he was going to go away, he grew up without his mother, he thought it would be better if they were all together, so he made a decision, a conscious choice to kill them,” he testified. “He felt in a sense, in his way, morally justified, which is much different than not knowing its morally wrong to do so.”
In order to find someone not guilty by reason of insanity in South Carolina, a jury must find a person was incapable of distinguishing moral and legal right from wrong based on a mental disease or defect. Frierson told the jury he does not believe Jones is suffering from schizophrenia and said the voices in his head are his own “anxious thoughts.”
“Describe the voices, tell me what you mean by voices, what do they say, and it became clear to me the more you talk to him about the content and how he described them, that what he is referring to as voices are not psychotic hallucinations but his own anxious thoughts,” he said.
Frierson said based on his conversations with Jones, he diagnosed him with a substance-induced psychotic disorder, cannabis use disorder, and alcohol use disorder.
“I think spice contributed heavily to what happened,” Frierson said.
“Spice,” also known as synthetic marijuana, is illegal in South Carolina. Jones admitted to Frierson to using spice nearly five times a day in the months leading up to the children’s death, as well as on the day investigators believed they were killed.
Defense attorney Boyd Young asked Frierson about suicide attempt made by Jones while incarcerated in 2015. Video shows Jones pacing back and forth in his cell, before tying a bed sheet around his neck and tying it to the door. But after reviewing the hour-long video, Frierson said Jones seemed “ambivalent” in his attempt.
“You never see him actually lift his feet off of the ground,” he said. “Most people who decide they’re going to do it, just do it.”
When asked about his relationship with the children’s mother, Amber Kyzer, Frierson said Jones described a tumultuous end to an eight-year marriage, filled with rumors of infidelity. He told the jury it was likely Jones was suffering from depression at the time of his divorce.
In addition to not detecting any cognitive impairments as a result of his traumatic brain injury, Frierson said he paid close attention to Jones’ interview with investigators shortly after he was arrested in Mississippi.
“One of the things I looked at is the description of Mr. Jones 24 hours after he was arrested when he’s sweating profusely, foaming at the mouth, screaming one minute—not making a lot of sense,” he said. “But then without any treatment 24 hours later, he’s back to his normal self, his dad said ‘I saw my Tim again’. If this was schizophrenia or a psychotic disorder due to schizophrenia I would not expect it to get better without treatment. It doesn’t get better on its own.”
Ultimately, when asked if he believes Jones is faking or exaggerating his symptoms of mental illness, Frierson said he strongly considered it, but did not include it within his diagnosis.
“I did not diagnose him with malingering, because I felt in judging that, that rather than maybe exaggerating symptoms to be found insane, that he was exaggerating symptoms to convince himself that he’s mentally ill so he can live with what he did.”