In a hushed Lexington County courtroom Tuesday, the father of convicted child killer Tim Jones Jr. on Tuesday bared his soul — and then taking off his jacket, tie and shirt — bared his back, showing the jury tattoos of each of his five murdered grandchildren.
From a distance of several feet, the jury viewed the faces of the children inked in flesh: On Tim Jones Sr.’s left back was Merah, 8, the oldest, clutching a puppy. Next to her, on Jones’ center back was Elaine, 1, the youngest, wide-eyed and holding a bottle and then the others — Gabe, 2, eating a cookie; Eli, 7, smiling and Nahtahn, 6, a big grin on his face. Jones Sr.’s two deceased siblings were also portrayed along with the children.
It marked yet another emotional moment in a dramatic trial in one of the most horrific crimes in modern S.C. history — the killings of five young children by their supposedly normal single father, Tim Jones Jr., 37, an $80,000-a-year software engineer at Intel.
“Do you struggle with guilt?” Jones Jr. defense attorney Casey Secor asked the grandfather.
“Yes, every day,” said Tim Jones Sr., 64, through tears, explaining how he wished he had recognized warning signs and intervened before his son killed the five children in August, 2014, in a Red Bank mobile home.
And, said Jones Sr., he loves his son “more than anything” and doesn’t want him to die.
“I don’t want to hurt no more,” Jones Sr. testified.
Also testifying Monday was Roberta Thornsberry, Jones Jr.’s grandmother, who helped raise him after his mother abandoned him.
“Do you want him, Tim Jr., put to death?”
“No. God no!” blurted Thornsberry, beginning to cry. “I love him. Our family’s been through enough. I don’t think we can take any more. This has broke us so bad.”
“You still love him?” pressed Secor.
“Oh God. I love him with all my heart. I don’t think when you love someone it ever goes away.”
Last week, the jury found Tim Jones Jr. guilty of murdering his five children, rejecting defense claims that Jones was mentally ill or insane at the time of the killings.
This week, the trial’s fourth week, the question before the jury is whether to sentence Jones Jr. to death or life without parole.
To that end, defense attorneys are putting up witnesses whom they hope will convince the jury to spare Jones Jr.’s life. Earlier, prosecutors put up witnesses they hoped would convince the jury to render a death penalty verdict.
By having Tim Jones Sr. take off his shirt and show the jury the tattoos on his back home, the defense brought home — in a more dramatic fashion than a photo — how much the children meant to their grandfather, and that his wishes to spare Jones Jr.’s life should be taken seriously.
In other testimony Monday:
▪ Psychiatrist Donna Maddox, who has treated Jones for the past four years at the request of the defense, told the jury that she has no doubts that “Mr. Jones meets the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia” and was “psychotic” (out of touch with reality) at the time he killed his five children.
▪ Two S.C. Department of Corrections prison guards told the jury that Jones has been a well-behaved inmate in the several years they have observed him at the prison awaiting trial. He has posed no disciplinary problem.
The defense put them on the witness stand to show the jury that should it give Jones a lifetime prison sentence, he will not cause trouble.
Out of the jury’s hearing on Monday, the judge heard testimony from Deborah Grey, a Columbia psychologist who investigated Jones Jr.’s family background going back two generations and put together a diagram she dubbed a “genogram.”
State Judge Eugene “Bubba” Griffith is considering whether and how much, if any, of Grey’s testimony to allow the jury to hear.
Before hearing any of Grey’s testimony, Griffith indicated he was doubtful he would allow the jury to hear any of what she had to say.
But after hearing about multiple kinds of extreme dysfunction that included many kinds of violence, child prostitution, child rape and repeated domestic violence that have permeated Jones Jr.’s life, Griffith appeared late Tuesday inclined to allow the jury to hear more about the family generational factors that shaped the child killer.
“This is a lot,” said the judge about the testimony, just before court let out late Monday. “It is almost unbelievable.”