‘To this day, I still feel guilty’: Teachers testify on behalf of Jones children

Updated: Jun. 7, 2019 at 7:04 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - A mural dedicated to the five slain children murdered at the hands of their father covers a wall at Saxe Gotha Elementary School, as teachers continue to grapple with the deaths of the children nearly five years later.

On Friday, the jury in the Timothy Jones Jr. trial heard emotional testimony from three teachers who taught Elias, 7; and Nahtahn 6; before their deaths.

Jonathan Stone and Amy Shearer taught Nahtahn Jones’ kindergarten class and told the jury despite his quiet personality, his smile beamed across the room as he entered class each day.

“I see him every day in his white t-shirt with his little pizza stains on it, I see him walking down the kindergarten hall and I look—one day he’s there and the next day he’s gone,” Stone said as he sobbed on the stand.

Stone will transfer to another school within the district for the upcoming school year, as continuing to teach at Saxe Gotha Elementary became too much for him to handle.

“I can’t stand to be in that school and see him in the halls every day,” he said. “I need a change.”

Stone said he spoke some with Tim Jones Jr. at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, but halfway through all communication stopped. He testified about his concerns of Nahtahn not getting enough to eat at home, ensuring he had access to extra snack foods at school when he was hungry.

Shearer was the first to notice bruising on Nahtahn’s neck during the school year.

“He told me his dad choked him, slammed him against the wall and held him there because he broke Eli’s trac,” she said through tears. “I made him repeat it again because I couldn’t believe that’s what he was telling me.”

Shearer immediately reported the allegations to DSS, who sent a caseworker to the school to photograph the injuries. Both Stone and Shearer said the next day, Nahtahn seemed very reserved and unwilling to speak about the incident further.

“He seemed afraid,” Stone said.

“After it happened, it was months before I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night screaming from a nightmare,” Shearer said. “To this day…I feel guilty because I saw the bruises and I made a report and he’s not here today.”

The jury also heard testimony from Jacquelyn Moran, who taught Eli Jones’ first-grade class.

“Eli was all boy — he was sweet, he loved superheroes, but what I remember about Eli is he was everyone’s friend, everyone loved to be friends with Eli,” Moran said. “He was the kid that would play with anyone who needed someone to play with.”

She told the jury Eli was a curious learner, who enjoyed reading and especially enjoyed the role of line leader. Four and a half years since his death, she testified she still struggles with the loss.

“This is something that I struggle with — I struggle daily — I see his friends — it’s hard,” she said. “Some days are easier but he’s always there.”

Jones appeared to cry as Moran told the jury about Eli’s class projects but showed no emotion when Stone and Shearer spoke of Nahtahn.

After the prosecution rested, the defense called two witnesses to the stand. Kerry Breen, a former pastor of Central Assembly of God was contacted by the defense in 2015 to help provide spiritual guidance to Jones while incarcerated. He testified to visiting with Jones between 15 and 20 times.

“I believe Tim thinks he’ll see his children again in heaven one day,” Breen said. “I think Tim had a real faith but it was based on the externals and not the internals.”

The jury also heard testimony from a member of the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department Fugitive Task Force. The deputy was responsible for extraditing Jones back to South Carolina following his arrest in Mississippi. He also testified to being responsible for transporting Jones from jail to the courthouse during the trial.

“On the second or third day of the trial, he had a couple different facial expressions I was not used to,” the deputy said. “He was turning around to look at the back of the courtroom which concerned me, but I figured out he was trying to look at the clock.”

He later testified Jones told him he was hearing voices and wanted to talk to a doctor, so the deputy contacted the appropriate people to ensure Jones’ medication dosages were adjusted.

The defense will continue to call witnesses on Monday.

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