After finding his 6-year-old son dead in bed, Tim Jones Jr. made a quick trip to a convenience store to buy cigarettes and, on the way back, heard the voice of a demon telling him to kill his other four children, a court-appointed psychiatrist told a Lexington County jury on Thursday.
“He heard a demonic voice . . . a creepy, gremlin voice that told him, ‘Kill the kids’,” Dr. Richard Frierson testified on the 12th day of a death penalty trial in one of South Carolina’s most horrific mass murders in memory. Jones has confessed to killings his five children, ages 1-8, in August 2014.
“He described the voices as being inside his head, being very brief,” Frierson said.
Back at his mobile home, Jones went to his four remaining children and strangled each — Merah, 8; Elias, 7; Gabriel, 2; and Abigail Elaine, 1, according to Jones’ confession to police.
“I knew I had schizophrenia. I was psychotic,” Jones later told Frierson during a mental health evaluation. “I thought it was better for me to take their lives. I cut off their windpipes, kissed them and took their lives . . . I’m not a murderer. I’d rather know where they’re at.”
Earlier that night, an angry Jones had punished his son Nahtahn, 6, by making him do physical exercises to the point the child died, Jones confessed to police. Jones said he believed if he went to prison for killing Nahtahn, the four remaining children would be left alone because their mother did not want them and it was better that they die.
“So he made a decision in a conscious choice to kill them. He felt, in his way, morally justified which is different from not knowing it’s morally wrong to do so,” said Frierson, a psychiatry professor at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, who has 30 years’ experience in examining mental health issues in South Carolina criminal trials. Trial Judge Eugene “Bubba” Griffith appointed Frierson as an independent examiner to evaluate Jones’s mental condition.
Frierson’s key findings rebuffed the defense’s earlier contention that Jones was delusional and schizophrenic, didn’t know right from wrong at the time of killings and could not have controlled himself.
Prosecutors seek the death penalty, and in this case, Jones’s mental state will be at key factor for the jury to consider.
Frierson’s findings included:
▪ Jones, 37, a former software and computer engineer at Intel, “clearly knew moral and legal right from moral and legal wrong” when he killed his five children on the night of Aug. 28, 2014, in their mobile home in the Red Bank community in Lexington County.
▪ Jones had the capacity to control his actions that night.
▪ Although he did not find Jones to be schizophrenic — a diagnosis that would have allowed defense lawyers to claim that Jones was susceptible to delusions — Frierson did find that Jones had been using substantial amounts of a potentially mind-altering drug popularly known as Spice, or cannabiniod, a synthetic form of marijuana, on the night he killed his children.
“He used incredible amounts of Spice. He says up to five times a day,” Frierson testified, basing his testimony on information that Jones had given him during his hours of interviews. “At work, he would go outside on breaks to use Spice.”
In the month before the killings, he spent $230 on Spice, according to Jones’s credit card receipts.
Frierson said he diagnosed Jones with a “substance-induced psychotic disorder from Spice.” The psychiatrist said he also diagnosed Jones with a severe disorder from marijuana and a mild disorder from alcohol abuse.
“I think Spice contributed incredibly to what happened,” Frierson testified, explaining that Jones’s use of the drug gave rise to paranoid thoughts in Jones’s mind that Nahtahn, the first to die, was plotting to kill him in his sleep. “He was paranoid, yes.”
Although Jones told Frierson he heard voices, they were probably “his own anxious thoughts,” Frierson testified, with the one possible exception being the gremlin voice.
But, Frierson testified, “Voluntary use of drugs is not a defense” in a criminal case.
Further evidence of Jones’s sanity were the steps he took to evade the law after killing his children: loading their bodies into his SUV, driving around the Southeast and doing internet searches on hiding bodies in landfills and the best places to avoid extradition back to the United States. A memo found by police with the initials “M.B.” on it meant that Jones wanted to head for the Mexican border after getting rid of the children’s bodies.
Jones eventually abandoned the bodies, each in its own garbage bag, in a vast Alabama forest about a week after the killings. Not long after, he was arrested at a routine traffic safety check in Mississippi.
Earlier in the trial, the defense put up doctors and other witnesses to show the jury that Jones suffered from schizophrenia-induced delusions, heard voices and was unable to control his behavior on the night of the killings.
In death penalty cases where mental issues are claimed as a defense, psychiatric testimony is crucial.
A defendant like Jones who admits to the crime but claims “not guilty by reason of insanity” must show he did not know right from wrong at the time of the crime. Jones also is pleading “guilty but mentally ill” — a lesser defense where a defendant must show mental illness prevented him from controlling his behavior, even though he knew right from wrong.
The jury could also find Jones “guilty,” meaning he both knew right from wrong and had the ability to control his conduct. Jones has already admitted to the crime so “not guilty” is not among the possible verdicts.
Frierson was Thursday’s only witness the jury heard.
During his more than three hours on the witness stand, Frierson also gave new details about the crime:
▪ Although Jones was making almost $70,000 a year when he moved to Lexington County and began working at Intel, he moved his family to a run-down mobile home out in the country west of the county seat of Lexington because he wanted to experience the country life. There, he hoped to “homestead” and raise goats, chickens and other farm animals, Frierson testified. “He wanted space.”
▪ In 2012, as Jones’s marriage began to fall apart, Jones visited Midlands’ prostitution websites, looking to see if she was being offered for sale by the family of the man with whom she was having an affair. “He was concerned that they would prostitute her.”
▪ Jones started smoking marijuana when he was 12, stealing it from his father’s stash, and he became a heavy drinker by the time he was in high school.