Crime & Courts

SC judge sets Tuesday to start accused child killer Tim Jones’ death penalty trial

After nearly five years, the trial of Tim Jones, accused of killing his five children, is scheduled to start in Lexington County early next week.

Opening statements to the jury by prosecution and defense lawyers will take place Tuesday afternoon, S.C. circuit Judge Eugene “Bubba” Griffith said Thursday shortly before 4 p.m. in an informal court session at the Lexington County courthouse.

Actual testimony will start Wednesday morning when the prosecution calls the first of its more than 100 potential witnesses. Not all will be called. The defense is said to have listed more than 75 potential witnesses. The trial could last into June.

Jones, 37, is pleading not guilty by reason of insanity — a defense rarely used in S.C. death penalty cases, and one never before successfully employed in an S.C. death penalty trial. He is accused of killing his five children, ages 1 to 8, in August 2014, by strangling four of them and beating the fifth to death. Evidence in the case says Jones then drove around the South for more than a week before deposited their bodies, wrapped in garbage bags, in rural Alabama.

Final jury selection will be made in the trial courtroom on the fourth floor of the Lexington courthouse at 10 a.m. Monday. A pool of 50 potential jurors has been selected from which 12 jurors and between three to six alternate jurors will be picked. On Monday, defense and prosecution lawyers will select those final 12 and alternates. The defense and prosecution have researched the jurors and will try to pick jurors they believe will give the most consideration to their side — a process described as a mix of art and science.

The 50 potential jurors in the final jury pool, mostly white men and women in their 20s to their 60s, were selected during the last seven and a half days of intense, often soul-searching questioning of approximately 120 prospective jurors.

The goal was to find jurors who could keep an open mind as to Jones’ guilt or innocence, whether they could consider a life sentence without parole as well as the death penalty if they find him guilty. Prospective jurors were also asked if they could fairly consider the possibility that someone who committed horrific killings could have been insane — unable to tell right from wrong — at the time of the killings.

Since a unanimous juror is needed to sentence someone to death, only one juror is needed to result in a sentence of life without parole.

In the end, of the approximately 70 jurors who were disqualified by the judge, most were dismissed because they said they would always favor the death penalty for killers, and especially for multiple killings of children. Others were disqualified because their travel or work schedule posed hardships. Only a handful were disqualified because they said they did not believe in the death penalty.

The final jury selection on Monday will go fast. Lawyers on both sides have researched each potential juror and are ready to accept or reject jurors. Both sides have a limited numbers of “strikes,” or rejections, or potential jurors.

This story will be updated.

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