Amber Jones Kyzer, ex-wife of convicted murderer Tim Jones, took the witness stand Tuesday and told a Lexington County jury that she doesn’t want her former husband executed for killing their five children.
“Amber, who are you here for?” was defense attorney Boyd Young’s first question.
“I’m here for my babies,” Kyzer replied, looking directly at the jury. All jurors’ eyes were on her.
“Did your kids love their dad?” Young asked.
“Yes, they did.”
A few minutes later, Young asked the key question: “Do you want Tim put to death?”
In a teary voice, Kyzer said, “I personally, myself, can’t bring myself to want anybody to die.”
Then she added: “Though I hear what my kids went through and what they endured — though as a mother, if I could personally rip his face off, I would — that’s the mom in me, the momma bear in me, wanting him to feel everything they felt.”
Last week, the jury found Tim Jones, 37, guilty of murdering his five children. The defense sought to paint him as insane, but the jury did not agree. The trial, now in its sentencing phase, is in its fourth week. The state is seeking the death penalty. The jury must decide whether to sentence Jones to death or give him life in prison without parole. They could begin deliberations as early as late Wednesday.
All the defense needs is for one juror to vote for life and Jones will be spared the death penalty.
Earlier in the trial, the jury heard a taped confession in which Jones described strangling four of his children — Elaine, 1; Gabe, 2; Merah, 8; and Eli, 7 - and killing Nathahn, 6, by making him do a brutal series of calisthenics that likely dehydrated him and caused his death.
“I don’t personally feel I have the right to put anyone’s life in my hands.” And then, her voice rising and choked with grief, she went on, telling the jury that Jones’ execution would devastate his family. “I don’t wish the Jones family to feel what I feel losing my son.”
At one point, she told the jury she knows they have likely been psychologically traumatized by having to listen to details of her children’s murders and the extreme dysfunction rampant in the Jones family. “I feel for you guys,” she told jurors. “I pray for Tim all the time. I pray for his family often. ... I can’t bring myself to want anybody to die.”
“I had eight babies all together with Tim,” Kyzer testified. Three died, including two miscarriages, as well as the five Jones murdered, she told jurors. The couple married in 2004 and remained together approximately eight years until their breakup.
For most of the 35 minutes she was on the witness stand, Kyzer looked directly at the jury. She told them that in the beginning, she and Jones were much in love, but as time went on, the marriage fell apart. At the end, with Jones being increasingly abusive, she left him to protect her children so they wouldn’t see the toxic tension between them.
“I think that as a mother I was making the best choice that I could,” Kyzer testified, who repeatedly started to cry but pulled herself together through her testimony.
Kyzer said she was convinced that Jones loved the children, and they in turn loved him. “He was a good father while we were married. He promised to take care of them. ... I’m really, really sorry everybody has to sit here for this. I don’t think anybody saw this coming. I know if anybody had seen anything, we would have done something.”
Mother says she fled threats
On cross-examination, deputy prosecutor Suzanne Mayes asked Kyzer to tell the jury about Jones’ erratic and cruel actions while they were living together, actions that drove Kyzer from the home and kept her from her children.
Once, Kyzer told jurors, Jones was driving with Amber and the children and he played “chicken” with an 18-wheeler, veering off at the last second, and terrifying Amber.
“Had that 18-wheeler hit, it would have killed everybody in the car,” Kyzer testified.
Another time, he head-butted her until she blacked out, Kyzer told the jury. “Shortly after that, he threw a phone at me and broke my back teeth out.”
Jones also spat in her face in front of the children and once told her, “He would chop me up and feed me to the pigs because pigs will eat everything but your teeth.”
After they separated, short videos of the children crying for their mother that Jones sent Amber in a text message “crushed my heart,” she testified. “He was using my kids to manipulate me into coming back home,” she testified.
‘There’s been so much loss’
Under Mayes’ questioning, Kyzer told jurors she was not the one seeking the death penalty.
“I need the Jones family to know this is not my choice,” Kyzer testified.
Mayes: “You respect the state’s right to seek the death penalty?”
Kyzer: “I do. I just can’t make that decision.”
In general, Kyzer testified, she did not favor the death penalty as a proper punishment.
But Kyzer acknowledged conflicting feelings about her husband getting the death penalty, especially in recent weeks as she has watched the live-streaming of the trial on television and learned for the first time about how her children were murdered.
“I was finding out, along with you guys,” Kyzer said, indicating the jury, “so in retrospect, my mind was like ‘Fry him. Fry him,’ absolutely.”
But, she continued, “I’m a strong believer in no death penalty... I’ve had very conflicting opinions with regard to what happened to my children, naturally.”
One last loving memory of her son Nahtahn, the first child Jones killed, stays with her. It was the last time she saw him, at a Chick-fil-A, where Jones had brought the children for one of the weekly visitations.
“My son got out of the car, and had on a little checkered shirt which I still have to this day — I can’t bring myself to wash it because it smells like him — he had his arms open and he just took off to me, and I said, ‘Whoa, son, you’re going to get hit by a car.’ The tight hug that my son gave me — if he died thinking I didn’t love him,“ she said, beginning to cry.
Kyzer also told the jury she objected to how her current husband, whom she met while married to Jones, and their relationship have been portrayed in media accounts. Her current husband was not a teenager when she met him, she said. “He was 24 ... when we got together. I was 27.” She added, “I didn’t jump into a relationship ... That is not how it happened at all.”
Young asked, “You want mercy?”
“I do,” Kyzer replied after a few seconds. “I do not say that lightly by any means. He did not show my children mercy — by any means — but my kids loved him, and I speak on behalf of my kids, not myself.”
Then, she turned to look at Jones, her ex-husband, across the room, and spoke directly to him: “Nothing justifies — nothing — what you’ve done,” she said, her voice turning harsh. “Or justify what you’ve done to me. ... I hope for mercy for you. I pray for you often. ... I say that from the depth of my soul. There’s been so much loss.”