Tim Jones was found guilty Tuesday of murdering his five children, ages 1-8, at the family’s Red Bank mobile home in August 2014.
A Lexington County jury deliberated six hours and 15 minutes before rendering its decision in one of the most horrific criminal cases in recent South Carolina memory.
Jones sat still with his lips pursed, showing no emotion, as the clerk read the guilty verdicts for the murders of Merah, 8; Elias, 7; Nahtahn, 6; Gabriel, 2; and Abigail Elaine, 1. Jones, 37, chose not to testify, exercising his Constitutional right to remain silent, during the trial’s first phase. However, the jury heard taped confessions of him admitting to killing his children.
The same jury of five women and seven men will return to court Thursday to decide whether to sentence Jones to death or life in prison without parole.
The verdict came after 14 days of testimony from more than 30 prosecution witnesses and 23 defense witnesses.
Jurors chose from four options — guilty, not guilty, not guilty by reason of insanity and guilty but mentally ill. Jones pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity as his defense team claimed he had schizophrenia and could not distinguish right from wrong at the time of the killings.
During the trial, both defense and prosecution witnesses portrayed Jones as a troubled man with many sides — a fanatical Christian fundamentalist who believed that wives should be husbands’ servants and children should be strictly disciplined; an abuser of drugs and alcohol whose family was riven by mental illness, child abuse and domestic violence; and an overwhelmed, single father who struggled with his divorce.
No one contested that Jones, a high-paid engineer at Intel, killed his children the evening of Aug. 28, 2014, strangling four of them to death — two with his hands and two with a belt. It’s unclear how the fifth child, Nahtahn, 6, died.
In confessions and statements to psychiatrists, Jones repeatedly claimed that on the night the children died, he had an angry confrontation with Nahtahn after the boy deliberately blew electrical sockets in the family’s home. As punishment, Jones ordered the boy to do squats, sit-ups and other strenuous exercises for a long time. Later that night, Jones said he was stunned to find Nahtahn dead in his bed.
A pathologist who examined the boy’s body told the jury she could not determine the cause of death. But she testified that children can die from dehydration more easily than adults if they do too much exercise.
In his final jury argument, prosecutor Rick Hubbard told jurors that Nahtahn’s death was not accidental. Rather, it was child abuse, especially since the S.C. Department of Social Services had ordered Jones in May 2014 to not physically punish his children following an abuse investigation.
“There is no accident in this case,” Hubbard told jurors Monday. “This isn’t involuntary, folks ... No child suffered more than Nahtahn.”
After the child’s death, Jones confessed that he deliberately killed his other four children to send them to heaven where they could be together.
After their murders, Jones drove aimlessly around the Southeast for nine days with the children’s bodies in the back of his Cadillac Escalade. He eventually dumped them in rural Alabama, wrapped in garbage bags.
“This is just pure evil malice,” Hubbard told jurors. “He left his kids out there like garbage ... He could have at least buried his kids. You know what? He left them out there for the wild animals. He left them in bags, knowing nature will take its course.”
After Jones left Alabama, traveling toward Las Vegas, police apprehended him at a routine traffic safety point in Mississippi.
Defense lawyers Boyd Young, Casey Secor and Robert Madsen tried to show that Jones was in the throes of a severe mental illness, even insanity, when he killed. In his closing jury argument, Young admitted Jones was “crazy” with a diseased brain that was to blame for the crime.
“Killing children that you love is insane,” Young told jurors. “Does it make sense? No. He’s crazy. You can’t rationalize crazy. But at the time, he thought it was the right thing to do.”