Emotional testimony, graphic photos round out day one of Jones punishment phase

Published: Jun. 6, 2019 at 6:35 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The Lexington County father convicted of killing his five children in 2014 broke down in court on Thursday, prompting the court to take a break to allow him to compose himself.

Visible tears could be seen running down Tim Jones Jr.’s face, as his eyes and cheeks became red and puffy. The emotional reaction came after the jury was shown two cell phone videos of Merah, 8, and Elias, 7, crying and asking for their mother in June of 2013. Jones can be heard telling the children to look into the camera and tell their mother “what you wanted to tell her.”

It was a small glimpse into an emotional day in court, as the jury begins hearing testimony in the second phase of Jones’ murder trial. On Tuesday, the jury found Jones guilty on all five counts of murder included in the indictment against him. Now, it will hear several days of testimony from both the prosecution and defense, after which it will decide Jones’ fate -- life in prison without the possibility of parole, or death.

In opening statements, prosecutors painted Jones as evil and calculating, reminding jurors of the pain and suffering he not only inflicted on his children, but all who loved them.

“A clear and unmistakable evil. He bears sole responsibly for the murders of his children,” Deputy Solicitor Suzanne Mayes said. “He alone is responsible for the murders of Merah, Eli, Nahtahn, Gabriel and Abigail. He bears responsibility for the suffering he’s been inflicting on the rest of the lives of everyone who loved them so dearly.”

The defense used its opening statement to remind the jury it must come to a unanimous decision and weigh their own personal moral beliefs and any mitigating factors that will be presented.

“The state is going to show you some horrific images. They’re going to show you images of the children in the condition they were recovered,” defense attorney Boyd Young said. “This loss and horror doesn’t belong to the Solicitor. These children were the great-grandchildren of Roberta, the grandchildren Tim and Julie, they are the nieces and nephews of Travis, Tyler, and Jackie. They deal with that loss and that horror every day.”

Prosecutors presented several witnesses on Thursday, offering testimony from a now retired SLED agent who secured the crime scene where the children’s bodies were found in rural Alabama. The jury was shown a video of where the five black garbage bags were found as well as photos of the scene. Some of the photos showed the placement of the bags, while others revealed the graphic nature of what investigators found upon opening them.

“We started slowly taking each bag one at a time, lifting it no more than what we had to and putting it on the open, unzipped body bag because we were trying to preserve everything we could, we didn’t want to lose anything,” (Ret.) Lt. Dave Lawrence said. “Once we placed it on the open body bag that we cut or opened the bags as much as we could to actually see what was inside of it.”

After seeing several of the pictures, a juror became emotional, needing to be helped out of her chair before the entire jury took a break. As a result of her outward display of emotion, the defense asked the judge to declare a mistrial. Judge Eugene Griffith denied that request.

Upon confirming the bags contained human remains, they were taken for autopsies. The forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsies told the jury about the condition the bodies were in when they arrived at the morgue, severely decomposed after being exposed to the hot weather and elements for several days.

Animal activity was also detected on some of the children.

The jury also heard testimony from one of the children’s former babysitters, who spent the summer of 2014 watching the children, just months before they were killed. She described the children as loving of each other and very protective over their youngest sibling, Abigail.

“I lose sleep over this — when it first happened,” Joy Lorick said, “I would just stay up at night and pace back and forth in the room.”

Janet Ricard served as the assistant principal of Saxe Gotha Elementary School, where the three oldest Jones children attended. She told the jury Merah and Elias were good at making friends and a joy to be around. As part of a project, Ricard took Elias under her wing to improve his reading and comprehension skills, meeting with the 7-year-old weekly to offer him one-on-one time.

“I knew he was one of five siblings, it was a single parent situation and there was no mother in the home, so I also hoped to serve as that maternal influence. This still affects me today,” Ricard said through tears.

The prosecution will continue to call witnesses to the stand Friday before the defense begins calling its witnesses.

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