The Pentecostal preacher who performed the wedding ceremony for confessed child killer Tim Jones in 2004 found him a fervent Christian who “prayed in tongues,” upset others in the church’s congregation — and believed the preacher’s wife was trying to seduce him.
Meanwhile, the Columbia family therapist who recommended in 2013 that Jones be given sole custody of his children during a divorce believed him “highly intelligent” but found it odd that Jones requested she not wear high heels during their sessions.
Two of the defense’s major witnesses took the stand Thursday, whom Jones’ attorneys hope will convince jurors that the former Intel software engineer was either insane or seriously mentally ill when he killed his five children in 2014 and as such, should be spared the death penalty.
“I used to joke with my wife that we had a church of 25 and Tim was the only one who could make every one of them upset,” Pastor Micah Sutton told the Lexington County jury on the eighth day of Jones’ death penalty trial. Jones joined Sutton’s church in Lombard, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, in 2003 just after Jones finished a year in prison for cocaine possession, car theft, burglary and passing forged checks.
In 2004, Sutton married Jones to Amber. The couple divorced in 2013.
Jones used his “prodigious memory” for Bible quotes to browbeat others during discussions on how to apply Scripture because he could quote from the Bible to prove his points, and they couldn’t keep up, Sutton testified.
“Someone would make a statement, and somebody would try to come back with an opinion or a thought, and his response was simply to quote the word of God — quote Scripture to them,” Sutton testified.
“The ability to quote a lot of the Bible is beautiful. But if you are not able to apply it properly, in personal expression and explanation to others, in a way that doesn’t hurt them but helps them move forward in their relationship with Christ, then it’s not a beneficial thing at all,” said Sutton. “His capacity to help others was limited.”
Jones’ didn’t have a sense of boundaries or how to properly interact with people — once Jones telephoned Sutton at 2 a.m. “He said, ‘I want to know what Jeremiah was talking about by ‘The Great Speckled Bird’?”
Two events triggered Jones’ departure from the church. First, he wanted to be a church leader, but Sutton made it clear he was too disruptive a force.
Secondly, Jones came to Sutton one day with a wild tale. “He felt like my wife ... was trying to seduce him. We sat in my office and he explained how she was wearing things and approaching him and communicating with him, not in words, but by actions and expressions that she was trying to seduce him. I explained to him that my wife is an extreme introvert.”
Occasionally, Jones would go into a frenzy and tell Sutton — in a phrase the pastor now finds horribly prophetic — “It seems like there’s a monster in me trying to get out.”
In a brief cross examination Thursday, lead prosecutor Rick Hubbard, his calm voice dripping with sarcasm, asked Sutton, “Do you think he understood that most basic of all tenets, ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’?”
Sutton replied, “Yes.”
Following Sutton on the stand was Columbia family and marriage therapist April Hames, who counseled Jones 14 times in 2012 and 2013 as he was going through a divorce. His wife of nine years, Amber Kyzer, was being unfaithful, Jones said, and had moved out of the house, leaving him with the children. She was not interested in attending the therapy sessions, he told the therapist.
“We worked together at that time to make him the best man and husband that he could be, given the circumstances,” Hames testified
Jones, who saw her during his lunch breaks at his Intel job, told her he was “conservative and old-fashioned” and believed in spanking children if they misbehaved. “He said spanking and corporal punishment was medicine for their sick bodies.”
Jones now stands accused of strangling four of his children to death in 2014 and killing his fifth child in an undetermined way, according to testimony. Jones has confessed to the crimes.
Jones also told her he believed in a good education and wanted the children, who were just beginning to attend school, to attend Lexington School District 1 because of the quality of its schools. His wife, Amber, had been home schooling the children, but wasn’t doing a good job, Jones told his therapist.
At the end of one of their first sessions, Jones made an unusual request of Hames, who is 6 feet, 1 inch tall and was wearing 3-inch high heels that day.
He “requested that moving forward I not wear heels,” Hames said, who disregarded the request. And Jones, who didn’t explain his request, didn’t mention it again.
Over the following months, Jones impressed her as a smart, loving father. One time Hames saw him playing with his children at her office. “It was probably the happiest moment I ever saw (involving him) ... They were climbing all over him, ‘Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!’ — and he seemed very fulfilled and very happy ... and they seemed happy too.”
In one of their last sessions, Jones, who didn’t want his wife to be part of the children’s lives, asked Hames to write an affidavit for his divorce lawyer, stating that Jones was fit to bring up the children alone.
Hames wrote a statement, part of which she read to the jury under cross-examination by prosecutor Shawn Graham: “In my professional opinion, Mr Jones is a highly intelligent, responsible father who is capable of caring for his children as the sole custodian parent. He is no stranger to responsibility, as he worked his way through a very demanding and challenging undergraduate engineering program (at Mississippi State) while being a father, husband and an employee at often more than one job.
“His thoughts are very detailed, action-oriented and focused on his children ... When Mr. Jones sees an obstacle, he sets his sights on a solution and is willing to go through the often difficult process of achieving his goals.”
Graham said, “That’s the Tim Jones you knew or you wouldn’t have written the affidavit?”
“Correct,” replied Hames.
Earlier Thursday, Atlanta psychiatrist Shawn Agharkar testified that Jones suffered from schizophrenia, a mental disease of thoughts, as opposed to a mood disorder such as depression, Agharkar testified. The disorder is “a highly inherited condition” that can be aggravated by conditions in the environment, he added.
Not only did Jones’ mother suffer from schizophrenia but “his mother didn’t feed him as an infant because she didn’t want a fat baby,” Agharkar testified. She also kept putting him in cold water, and eventually, Jones was raised by his grandmother, who also suffered from serious mental illness.
Agharkar’s credentials include teaching at Emory University and Morehouse University’s medical school in Atlanta, as well as consulting the FBI and Georgia police and fire departments, he testified. Since Jones is an indigent, the state of South Carolina paid $25,000 for his services.
Although Agharkar testified that when he is hired by lawyers for criminal cases, “I routinely tell lawyers things they do not want to hear.” On cross-examination, prosecutor Suzanne Mayes brought out that when Agharkar testifies in death penalty trials, he has always testified for the defense.
Prosecutors want jurors to believe that Jones killed his children because he freely chose to, not because mental illness impaired his ability to think clearly.