Crime & Courts

SC father accused of killing his five children to claim insanity

The 2014 killings of five children in Red Bank

Timothy Ray Jones, Jr. is accused of killing his five children and dumping their bodies in Alabama in 2014.
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Timothy Ray Jones, Jr. is accused of killing his five children and dumping their bodies in Alabama in 2014.

Timothy Jones will use a rarely argued defense when he goes on trial in Lexington County for the murder of five children — not guilty by reason of insanity.

According to records in the Lexington County Courthouse, Jones' lawyers have notified 11th Circuit Solicitor Rick Hubbard that they intend to offer an insanity defense.

Hubbard has said he will seek the death penalty against Jones in a trial set to begin Oct. 15.

Jones, 36, is charged with murder in the August 2014 deaths of his five children — Merah, 8; Elias, 7; Nahtahn, 6; Gabriel, 2; and Elaine, 1.

Up to now, Jones' lawyers — Boyd Young and Robert Madsen — have not commented on what defense they would offer. Neither Young nor Madsen could be reached Tuesday.

The Red Bank father who is charged with the killing of his five young children will face the death penalty and is required to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

Columbia defense attorney Jack Swerling, who has tried scores of murder cases and death-penalty cases in his 40-plus years of practicing law, said Tuesday the legal defense of not guilty by reason of insanity — called the M'Naghten rule after a precedent-setting British case — rarely is used in South Carolina. Sterling could not recall a single instance of the defense being successful in a S.C. murder case.

S.C. juries want to hold a killer responsible for his or her crimes, and the idea of finding someone not guilty by reason of insanity is contrary to that desire, Swerling said. "People want some sort of punishment."

A defendant found guilty by reason of insanity would be committed to the state mental facilities.

The standard for finding a person not guilty by reason of insanity is extremely high, Swerling said.

"It, basically, means that they (the defendant) cannot tell legal or moral right from legal or moral wrong," Swerling said. "To get to that standard, you really have to be psychotic or delusional."

In a case involving an insanity defense, the jury likely will hear psychiatric testimony from witnesses for both the defense and prosecution, Swerling said. "It will be a battle of psychiatrists."

The violent deaths of Jones' children sparked national media coverage. It was one of the largest mass killings in the Columbia area in decades.

Jones killed his children on Aug. 28, after picking them up from school and day care, according to records in the case. Four of the children were strangled. Nahtahn, 6, was beaten to death, records say. All the killings took place at his home at 2155-B South Lake Drive, records say.

Six days later, the mother of the children, Amber Jones, reported them missing and authorities began a search. At the time, the Jones were living apart because of marital problems, according to court records.

On Sept. 6, 2014, Jones was stopped by police in Raleigh, Miss., for driving under the influence. During that stop, police found a "large amount of blood and handwritten notes with directions" on how to kill and mutilate bodies. Police also found computers.

Three days later, Jones led police to the children's bodies in a rural area near Camden, Ala. He had transported the bodies from Lexington County to that site in plastic garbage bags, court records say.

Jones told investigators that he thought his children planned to kill him and then "chop him up and feed him to the dogs," records say.

A death-penalty trial has two phases — the guilt or innocence phase and, if there is a guilty verdict, a sentencing phase. In that phase, jurors decide whether the defendant gets the death penalty or life without the possibility of parole in prison.

Evidence about Jones' claim of insanity would be presented to the jury during the guilt or innocence phase, Swerling said. If the jury finds that Jones was guilty in the traditional sense — responsible for actions — the defense still could offer evidence concerning his mental state during the punishment phase as a way of showing Jones was not fully responsible for his actions.

Amber Jones, the children's mother, is suing the S.C. Department of Social Services, alleging that state agency failed to safeguard her children despite repeated reports that Jones posed a danger to them. She also has filed a second lawsuit seeking damages from Lexington County retailers, alleging they sold Timothy Jones a synthetic marijuana product that he was under the influence of when he killed the children.

Solicitor Hubbard was not available for comment Tuesday.

However, in court documents, the solicitor asks for a judge's order to require the defense to disclose "any and all information relating to the defendant's mental health."