Crime & Courts

Minister says child killer Tim Jones still has a purpose in life

Tim Jones believes he will be reunited with his children in heaven

Pastor Kerry Breen ministered to Tim Jones while he was incarcerated.
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Pastor Kerry Breen ministered to Tim Jones while he was incarcerated.

Can a killer of children be redeemed?

Yes, according to a minister who testified Friday during the penalty phase of Tim Jones’ death penalty trial. Jones was found guilty Tuesday of murdering his five children in 2014 in the family’s Red Bank mobile home.

“We’ve seen many men that have committed horrible (crimes) experience redemption,” said Kerry Breen, a Pentecostal minister, in the Lexington County courtroom who has counseled Jones several times since his imprisonment. “They may not ever be able to be in society again but they can have a beneficial influence on men who have committed other crimes.”

Friday, Jones’ defense team began making its case to the jury that Jones should be sentenced to life without parole — not sentenced to the death penalty, which is being sought by the 11th Circuit Solicitors Office, led by Solicitor Rick Hubbard.

Breen, a graying coif-haired Marine who was called to the ministry in 1980, said he prayed about meeting with Jones after he received a call from the then-suspect’s lawyers. They wanted Breen to “provide spiritual support” for Jones. Breen knew about Jones’ crime.

After Jones’ attempted suicide in prison, Breen said he decided to be the alleged killer’s religious counselor.

“I felt I had a responsibility to ministry to people, not just who didn’t have problems, but who did have problems,” said Breen, who visited Jones more than 10 times in prison. Rather than discuss the accusations against Jones, the two men read Scripture together and discussed the meaning. And Breen taught Jones Christian songs, which they sang together in a prison cell.

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Tim Jones talks to his attorney, Boyd Young as the defense begins their testimony during the sentencing phase of his trial in Lexington. Timothy Jones, Jr. was found guilty of killing his 5 young children in 2014. 6/7/19 Tracy Glantz tglantz@thestate.com

Jones’ lead attorney, Boyd Young, questioned the minister about Jones’ faith.

“I think that Tim has a real faith,” he said. “But I think that it was based on externals and not on internals.”

Those externals came, in part, from Jones’ literal interpretation of the Bible, Breen said. The now-convicted killer saw no gray areas in the Bible and that gave Jones problems in his life, Green told the court.

Earlier in the criminal phase of the trial, the prosecution portrayed Jones as an extreme fundamentalist Christian zealot with views that included harsh punishment for disobedient children and subjugating his wife. Those beliefs proved Jones was not insane — but a cruel and capable killer, according to the prosecution.

Breen’s testimony pointed to a different take on the convicted murderer’s faith.

“We’ve seen people redeemed,” in prison, Breen said.

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

The day began with the last two witnesses for the prosecution before Hubbard’s team rested.

Elementary school teachers who taught the Jones children told the jury about the character of their young students. Through tears, teachers described Eli and Nahtahn as young boys who stood out — Elias, 7, for his charisma and support of other students and Nahtahn, 6, for a smile that hid other emotions. The teacher’s testimony depicted Jones as a distant and, at times, malicious father.

After school officials found bruises on Nahtahn’s neck and arms and reported it to the S.C. Department of Social Services, Jones sent a thick, plastic homework folder back to the a teacher ripped in half, classroom assistant Amy Shearer told the court.

Jonathan Stone, Nahtahn’s kindergarten teacher, said the child’s death haunts him and he still sees Nahtahn in the school’s halls. He has decided to leave his job at the school after a decade because of the killings, he testified.

“I see him everyday in his little white T-shirt with his little pizza stains on it,” Stone said through his cries. “I can’t stand being in that school and seeing him in the halls everyday. I need a change. And that change is going to allow me to move on with my life hopefully.”

Seeing the children again is also what their father hopes is in store for him.

“I think that Tim does believe that’s he’s going to be reunited with his children,” Breen testified. “I think the Bible does teach that.”

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Saxe Gotha Elementary School teacher Jonathan Stone wipes his eyes while talking about his former student, Nahtahn Jones, 6, during the sentencing phase of the trial of Tim Jones in Lexington. Jones was found guilty of killing Nahtahn and his four other children in 2014. 6/7/19 Tracy Glantz tglantz@thestate.com

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David Travis Bland won the South Carolina Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for community journalism. As The State’s crime, police and public safety reporter, he strives to inform communities about crimes that affect them and give deeper insight into victims, the accused and law enforcement. He studied history with a focus on the American South at the University of South Carolina.

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