Crime & Courts

Jury selection to begin for mass murder case of 5 children, allegedly killed by dad

Jury selection in one of South Carolina’s most horrific crimes in modern times — the 2014 mass slayings of five young Lexington County brothers and sisters — is set to begin on April 29.

Their father, Timothy Jones Jr., 37, is charged with five counts of murder in the case. Jones has been held at the Lexington County Detention Center since his arrest in September 2014, within days of the killings.

Prosecutors seek the death penalty in the case, which sparked outrage and national media coverage.

Timothy Ray Jones Jr., is escorted by lawmen out of the Smith County Jail to a vehicle for transport to Lexington County, S.C. on Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014. AP

In death penalty cases, jury selection can take weeks as the judge and opposing lawyers try to find jurors who can be unbiased and also to devote the weeks or months sitting as jurors in such cases.

In the last three years, because of a gag order limiting publicity, there has been little news about Jones’ case.

But this week’s unannounced secret hearing at the Lexington County courthouse, attended by prosecution and defense attorneys, as well as numerous witnesses, revealed that a lot has been going on behind the scenes. The hearing started on Monday.

The jury selection date of April 29 was confirmed Wednesday by trial Judge Eugene “Bubba” Griffith, who is presiding over the hearing.

When a State Media Co. reporter entered the courtroom Wednesday morning and took a seat, Griffith — apparently recognizing that a reporter had entered the room — waited a minute, then halted proceedings.

At the time, Jones’ father, Timothy Jones Sr., was on the witness stand, being questioned by one of his defense attorneys about his son.

Jones Sr. was testifying that his son, the accused killer, had been a smart boy “on the border between brilliance and insanity ... He was doing calculus by the time he was 10.”

As he testified, Jones Jr., wearing a blue dress shirt, sat at the defense table, looking on.

After the judge declared a recess, he left the courtroom. Some defense and prosecution lawyers also left the courtroom, apparently to discuss the reporter’s presence.

When the judge and lawyers came back to the courtroom, a defense attorney made a motion to seal proceedings. The judge approved the motion and said he was excluding the press to help ensure the selection of an untainted jury.

Closing courtrooms in criminal proceedings in extremely rare. U.S. Supreme Court decisions place a high value on the openness of American courts and say that judges have other ways to ensure untainted jurors. Those include questioning prospective jurors about what they have heard or read about a case.

Since Monday, numerous witnesses have testified on matters on various matters that might come up at Jones’ trial. Those matters involve the admissibility at trial of the evidence and statements made by Jones when he was arrested in Mississippi in 2014, The State has learned.

When Jones was stopped by police in Mississippi on Sept. 6, 2014, for driving under the influence, police found in Jones’ car blood and handwritten notes on how to kill and mutilate bodies, The State and other media have previously reported.

After being arrested, Jones led police to the five children’s bodies — Merah, 8; Elias, 7; Nahtahn, 6; Gabriel, 2 and Elaine, 1 — in a rural area near Camden, Ala. He had transported the bodies from Lexington County to that site in plastic garbage bags, police said.

jones children (2)
(From top left clockwise) Merah (8), Elias (7), Elaine Marie (1), Gabriel (2), Nahtahn (6)

Evidence in the case indicates Jones killed his children on Aug. 28, 2014, after picking them up from school and day care. All the killings took place at the childrens’ home at 2155-B South Lake Drive in Red Bank in rural Lexington County, records say.

In the courtroom this week, there have been police officers from Mississippi, as well as a representative from the Mississippi Attorney General’s office.

Records in the Lexington County courthouse filed by Jones’ defense team say that Jones will use the defense of not guilty by reason of insanity. That defense is rarely used in South Carolina.

Defense attorneys in court Wednesday included Boyd Young, Rob Madsen, Bill McGuire and Casey Secor of Suzerain Capital Defense, a public interest law firm. Prosecutors included Rick Hubbard, Shawn Graham and Suzanne Mayes.