Defense lawyers, who are trying to save Tim Jones from execution, put on a witness Wednesday whose testimony portrayed Jones as not only mentally unhinged when he killed his five children but wracked with guilt and remorse.
If jurors sitting on Jones’s death penalty trial believe that he was mentally ill and feels remorse, they will be more likely to give him a life without parole sentence or confinement in a mental institution instead of the death penalty, defense lawyers believe.
That witness was Lexington County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Adam Creech, who told jurors that he was with FBI agent David Mackey in September 2014 when they wrangled a confession out of Jones that he killed his five children, ages 1-8, and got him to lead them to his children’s bodies in an Alabama woods.
Creech, who would normally be a prosecution witness but was testifying under compulsion of a defense subpoena, answered a host of questions from Jones’ attorney, Rob Madsen. Madsen played a tape that Creech had made of an interview with Jones on Sept. 9, 2014, minutes after Jones had led officers to his five children’s bodies in a forest in Alabama.
At the time, Jones and Creech were in the back of a police car, headed back to Smith County, Mississippi, where Jones had been arrested several days earlier. It was the first time this tape had been played to the jury.
“I’m so sorry about what I did ... want to see my kids again ... Lord God, forgive me,” Jones tells Creech at one point on the tape, his voice choked with sobs.
A minute later, Creech tells Jones he did the right thing by leading officers to where the children’s bodies were dumped and “now they can have a proper burial.”
Jones retorted, his words hard to understand through his tears. “I don’t want to go to the burial ... I’m not worthy to go.” He begins to weep.
Then Jones is heard saying through his tears he doesn’t understand how killers cannot suffer from what they’ve done. “I can’t keep this sh** on my chest and walk around acting normal ... I just can’t walk around with myself. I can’t be okay with myself.”
Madsen also asked Creech to say what law officers had learned about Jones’s travels from Aug. 28, 2014, when he killed his five children at their Red Bank home to Sept. 6. 2014, when he was arrested in Mississippi at a traffic safety point. The children were Merah, 8; Elias, 7; Nahtahn, 6; Gabriel, 2 and Abigail Elaine, 1.
According to store receipts found in Jones’s Cadillac Escalade, Creech testified, Jones traveled to Spartanburg, West Columbia, Lake City, Camden, Orangeburg, Lexington County, Athens, Ga., and two small towns in Alabama.
After killing his children, Jones tells Creech on the tape, “I just sat around in a daze .... (then) I started aimlessly driving,” Jones is heard telling Creech on the tape. “I was just kind of blah like I lost my mind.”
Madsen also elicited statements from Creech that Jones had told officers he (Jones) believed his son Nahtahn, 6, was “trying to find a way to electrocute him in his sleep” and that at some points in the interview where he confessed, Jones began “sobbing hysterically.”
In the tape, Jones also talked about the “voices in his head,” telling Creech that after he killed the children, one voice told him to “get rid of them and go” and another voice told him, “Go burn the bodies.” Jones also said, “I don’t like these thoughts coming out of my head. They scare me.”
At one point, Jones told Creech, “I think I need help.” Then he confessed, Creech testified, “This wasn’t the first time he had thought about harming the children.”
During Creech’s more than two hours on the witness stand, Jones wept more than a half dozen times, sometimes so hard his whole body shook.
Prosecutors rested their case Wednesday morning. During the last seven days, they have put up 32 witnesses whom they hope will convince the jury that Jones was a cruel and sane killer who methodically executed his children by strangling at least four of them and possibly all five, then took calculating steps to avoid capture for more than a week.
In a cross-examination of Creech, 11th Circuit Solicitor Rick Hubbard asked the detective about how Jones had stopped at a Wal-Mart to get supplies while driving around with the children’s bodies in his Cadillac.
“He took time to shop for items he could use to dismember and dispose of the children?” asked Hubbard.
“He did,” replied Creech.
In response to a question from Hubbard, Creech also told the jury that after killing his children, Jones had downloaded a movie that contained a scene of a prison rape in a shower.
Had Jones called 911 after his first child died, authorities could have come to Jones’s mobile home and taken the remaining four living children into custody, Creech testified.
Defense attorneys have admitted Jones’s guilt to the jury. They are asking jurors to find Jones “guilty but mentallly ill” or “not guilty by reason of insanity.”
If the jury were to find Jones “guilty” or “guilty but mentally ill,” the trial would move into a second phase where jurors would decide whether Jones should get life in prison or be executed.
If jurors found Jones “not guilty by reason of insanity,” he would be confined to a secure unit in the state mental hospital in Columbia for a long but uncertain amount of time.
Cody Dulaney contributed.