The selection of a 12-person jury and alternates for the upcoming death penalty trial of Tim Jones, charged in the 2014 killings of his five children, began Monday in a Lexington County courtroom.
“My primary goal is to select an impartial jury,” state circuit Judge Eugene “Bubba” Griffith told some 185 prospective jurors. “It is a capital (death penalty) case.
Then Griffith laid down some rules:
“For heaven’s sake, don’t go on Facebook or Twitter or look something up,” Griffith said. “What you need to know about the case will be given in the courtroom ... We don’t need you investigating about this case.”
Jones, 37, is charged with five counts of murder in the killings of his five children, ages 1 to 8. Griffith read the indictments to the jury, along with the children’s names: Merah, 8; Elias, 7; Nahtahn, 6; Gabriel, 2; and Elaine, 1.
On Monday, Jones sat with his lawyers in the front of the courtroom, unsmiling. He wore a light blue shirt with no tie. His head had recently been shaved, but his hair was starting to grow back.
There is virtually no doubt Jones killed them. His attorneys have filed papers saying he is pleading not guilty by reason of insanity.
As a result, much of the testimony in the upcoming trial is expected to center around Jones’ state of mind at the time of the killings. The case made national headlines in 2014 when Jones was arrested after leading authorities to his children’s bodies in rural Alabama. He had driven around for days with the children’s bodies in the back of his car.
Attorneys familiar with South Carolina death penalty cases said Monday they didn’t know of any capital cases in this state where a jury had found a defendant not guilty by reason of insanity. Indictments in the case say they were bludgeoned to death or strangled.
On Monday, Griffith conducted an initial juror screening, excusing a half dozen or so who had demanding family or business obligations that made it impossible for them to serve on a jury for a weeks-long trial.
When Griffith asked how many jurors had heard of the case through the news media or Internet, approximately 75 stood.
Beginning Tuesday, those jury candidates will undergo intense questioning by lawyers. They will be asked whether pre-trial publicity has affected their ability to render a fair and impartial verdict, what they think about the death penalty and whether they believe a person’s mental derangement can render them unaware of their actions.
Choosing 12 jurors and three or more alternates can sometimes take weeks.
Prosecutors in the case include 11th circuit Solicitor Rick Hubbard, deputy prosecutor Shawn Graham and assistant prosecutor Suzanne Mayes.
Hubbard was for years an assistant to former Solicitor Donnie Myers, who was known for getting numerous death penalty verdicts. But Myers was also known for having many of his death verdicts overturned, and Hubbard and his team will be working to avoid errors that would cause a higher court to reverse any jury decision.
Defense lawyers in the case include 11th Circuit Public Defender Robert Madsen, S.C. Commission on Indigent Defense chief attorney Boyd Young and deputy chief attorney Bill McGuire, and Casey Secor.