Crime & Courts

Traumatized woman excused as juror in Jones children murder case

John Monk

The dark-haired woman, a potential juror in the upcoming Tim Jones children murder death penalty trial, told the judge she worked with small children at a Lexington County school.

As state Judge Eugene “Bubba” Griffith quizzed her Thursday afternoon on whether she would be up to sitting through a long trial full of gruesome details about how the five Jones children, ages 1-8, were killed, the woman took her time answering.

“It would be hard,” she said finally, sitting in what will be the witness stand in a Lexington County courtroom.

Griffith leaned forward, studying her face.

“I’m going to excuse her,” the judge told defense and prosecution lawyers. “I don’t think this would be a fair place for her.”

The woman, who was in her early 30s, then left the courtroom.

”She was about to cry right there,” Griffith told the lawyers, noting he’d seen the tears. “She was trembling.”

It was an honest reaction to what are likely the most horrific child murders in modern South Carolina history — the brutal killings of Merah, 8; Elias, 7; Nahtahn, 6; Gabriel, 2; and Elaine, 1. Jones is accused of bludgeoning or strangling them, putting their bodies in garbage bags in his SUV and driving around for more than a week before depositing them in a rural area in Mississippi.

As a practical matter, there is little doubt about Jones’ guilt. The defense is not disputing that he is physically responsible for their deaths. But he is pleading not guilty by reason of insanity.

By day’s end, the lawyers and the judge had picked nine potential jurors after two and a half days of trying to select jurors.

Those potential jurors — the judge is trying to come up with a pool of 50 — are those who can keep an open mind about not only Jones’ guilt or innocence, but who agree to hear conflicting evidence on Jones’ sanity before making a decision on whether to give him the death penalty or what would amount to a life sentence without parole.

More than 15 people have been excused, some for scheduling conflicts, some who say Jones should get the death penalty no matter what, and at least one who didn’t believe in the death penalty.

It may be another week or more before the trial gets underway. It would go until June.

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John Monk has covered courts, crime, politics, public corruption, the environment and other issues in the Carolinas for more than 40 years. A U.S. Army veteran who covered the 1989 American invasion of Panama, Monk is a former Washington correspondent for The Charlotte Observer. He has covered numerous death penalty trials, including that of the Charleston church killer, Dylann Roof, and that of child killer Tim Jones.