Crime & Courts

Is accused child killer Timothy Jones full of hate or insane? Lawyers weigh in on trial’s first day

Defense attorney Rob Madsen: “Tim’s mind is broken.”

Defense attorney Rob Madsen delivers an opening statement in the death penalty trial of Timothy Jones, Jr. Jones, who faces the death penalty, has pleaded guilty by reason of insanity in the killings of his 5 young children in 2014
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Defense attorney Rob Madsen delivers an opening statement in the death penalty trial of Timothy Jones, Jr. Jones, who faces the death penalty, has pleaded guilty by reason of insanity in the killings of his 5 young children in 2014

In opening statements to jurors Tuesday, prosecution and defense attorneys — speaking from vastly different perspectives — revealed new details about the life and alleged crimes of accused child killer Tim Jones of Red Bank.

Tim Jones was a man motivated by hate, explained 11th Circuit deputy Solicitor Shawn Graham to the Lexington County jury of 10 women and eight men. On Aug. 28, 2014, the night Tim Jones allegedly killed his five children, he raged at Nahtahn, 6, for playing with an electrical circuit.

Graham said Jones’ ex-wife, Amber Jones, will testify that she was on the phone with Tim Jones that night. He was upset about the Red Bank home’s electrical outlets being blown, yelling, “You could have killed yourself, son!”

Then, Tim Jones hung up on her. “That was the last time the children were known to be alive,” Graham said.

Jones knew right from wrong because after the killings, he loaded the children’s bodies into his Cadillac Escalade and fled, driving around the Southeast for nine days, Graham said.

The prosecution’s evidence will include Jones’ notes to himself on his cell phone, his Internet searches on how to dispose of bodies and notes he made on a clip board. That evidence will show jurors Jones carefully planned things, Graham said.

“He’s not insane. He’s a murderer,” Graham said. “A father is supposed to protect his children.”

11th circuit deputy solicitor Shawn Graham delivers an opening statement on the first day of Tim Jones' trial in Lexington.

But defense attorney Robert Madsen, in his 19-minute overview of the case to the jury, said Jones, 37, is a schizophrenic who, buried under a mountain of psychological and environmental stressors, snapped.

“Tim’s forest was on fire, and it was burning out of control,” said Madsen, who gave new details about Jones’ odyssey through life, a journey that ended with the deaths of his five children Merah, 8; Elias, 7; Nahtahn, 6; Gabriel, 2; and Elaine, 1.

Jones’ psychological issues include mental illness that runs on both sides of his family, including a schizophrenic mother who has been hospitalized for the past 20 years, a traumatic brain injury as a teenager and drug and alcohol addictions, defense attorney Robert Madsen told the jury.

Other sufferings in his youth that stunted the healthy growth of Jones’s mind included violence and the parental abandonment “he was constantly subjected to,” Madsen said.

“After you hear all the evidence, you will find him not guilty by reason of insanity,” Madsen said, explaining that evidence will show that on the night of Aug. 28, 2014, Jones’ already vulnerable psyche was under multiple pressures of a demanding Intel job (“Intel can be a tough place to work”), being a single dad to five children and suffering depression after divorcing his wife whom he believed had been unfaithful.

In the final weeks and days before the killings, Jones took his children to Disney World and spent hours on the Internet, trying to find self-help books that would lift him out of his depression.

“It all came crashing down at the same time,” Madsen said.

Defense attorney Rob Madsen gives his opening argument on the first day of Tim Jones’ trial in Lexington. 5/14/19 Tracy Glantz

Jones wanted more than anything to be a Navy SEAL, Madsen said, but the U.S. Navy diagnosed him with “a mental disorder” during boot camp — a rejection that threw him into depression, addiction and eventually a jail cell, Madsen said.

It was in prison he found Jesus and became a Christian: “to Tim the Bible is the infallible guild,” Madsen said

After prison, Jones met his future wife, Amber, in Chicago, and it was “love at first sight,” Madsen said. They moved to Mississippi, where Jones, who had mathematical gifts, graduated summa cum laude from Mississippi State University and was offered a job at Intel in Blythewood. He and Amber, with a growing brood of children, moved to Red Bank in Lexington County, Madsen said. There, they began going to church and Tim began speaking in tongues at services, he said.

But it was there that Jones began to suspect Amber was seeing another man and his mental deterioration escalated, Madsen said.

Toward the end, Jones felt that he was “a failure of a father” and he wasn’t living up to biblical teachings, Madsen said.

After he killed them, he wrapped their bodies in sheets and drove around, traveling to Bishopville, Spartanburg, Folly Beach, Charleston, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, playing songs for them.

“He wasn’t ready to let them go,” Madsen said. But finally in Alabama, “he took their remains and placed them in garbage bags. He said a prayer and said good-bye.”

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

During his statement to the jurors, prosecutor Graham became choked up and appeared to start weeping as he talked about Jones’ children. The display of emotion brought an objection from Madsen, who, out of the jurors’ hearing, demanded a mistrial. That would mean the jury selection would have to start over.

Judge Eugene Griffith turned down the motion. Lawyers are not supposed to do anything that would appeal to the jurors’ passions or prejudices.

Rick Hubbard, 11th Circuit solicitor who made the decision to seek the death penalty, told the judge that emotion is to be expected during this trial. “If they (the defense) are going to stand up every time someone gets emotional .... it’s going to be a long process,” Hubbard said.

Watching the arguments were the 12 jurors and six alternates. Judge Griffith has told the jury panel — a nearly all-white mix of ages from the 20s into the 60s — that he won’t reveal who the alternates are until it comes time to deliberate so that they all will pay attention. It took nearly 8 days to choose the panel. A total of some 125 were questioned by the judge and opposing lawyers.

Testimony in the trial, which is expected to last three or more weeks, will start Wednesday at 9 am at the Lexington County courthouse.

11th circuit deputy solicitor Shawn Graham delivers opening arguments on the first day of Tim Jones’ trial in Lexington. 5/14/19 Tracy Glantz

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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.