COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — One more group of family members asked a jury Wednesday to spare the life of a South Carolina father convicted of murdering his five children, saying they have been through enough pain already.
The same jury that convicted Timothy Jones Jr. of killing his five children in their Lexington home in August 2014 is set to begin deliberating his fate Thursday morning. If they don’t unanimously agree to the death penalty, Jones, 37, will be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
One person the jury will not hear from in person is Jones himself. He declined to testify before he was found guilty and again Wednesday at the end of his sentencing phase. South Carolina law would have allowed Jones to make a brief statement to the jury during Thursday’s closing arguments, but Jones told Circuit Judge Eugene Griffith he wouldn’t do that either.
They have heard from Jones through several confessions with authorities and interviews with psychologists.
Jones killed 6-year-old son Nahtahn by exercising the boy to death as a punishment after he refused to admit he broke an electrical outlet, according to Jones’ confession.
Jones didn’t call 911 when he found his son dead. Instead, he watched a prison rape scene from a movie on his cellphone, then decided to kill the other children, according to his confession and cellphone records.
Jones told police he strangled 8-year-old Merah and 7-year-old Elias with his hands and used a belt to choke 2-year-old Gabriel and 1-year-old Abigail.
On Wednesday, the horrific details of the killings took a back seat as Jones’ two half brothers, his half sister and his stepmother all testified. Earlier in the week, Jones’ father asked jurors to spare his life and the mother of the five slain children said she was against the death penalty personally, but was OK with whatever the jury decided.
They remembered a young man who acted as a mentor and when Jones’ three oldest children were little.
The family members said Jones has much more to offer by being allowed to live out his life in prison than die at the end of a needle or in the electric chair. They testified he could teach other inmates like he guided them through complex subjects at school.
And they all asked to spare Jones’ life because after all the pain they suffered when the children were killed five years ago they didn’t need any more.
“Don’t take one more from us. Our family can’t take it,” half brother Tyler Jones said.
Jones Jr. wiped away tears several times, including when his lawyers showed news footage of a memorial service his family put on for the children, whose ashes sit in urns at their grandfather’s house along with the Mickey Mouse ears they wore when their father took them to Disney World months before killing them.
Prosecutors asked few questions of the family members. But earlier Wednesday, they finished cross examining social worker Deborah Grey, who spent 500 hours unraveling Jones life from his grandmother’s upbringing to the children’s deaths.
She testified at length about rapes, molestation, arguments, gunfire and drug use for the defense Tuesday. But prosecutor Rick Hubbard pointed out Jones excelled in school, overcame a drug conviction in the early 2000s and even with a wife and kids made it through college and into an $80,000-a-year computer engineer job.
While the defense is arguing that undiagnosed mental illness drove Jones to kill his children — a claim the jury has shown some skepticism about by deciding not to find him guilty but mentally ill or not guilty by reason of insanity — Hubbard and prosecutors said he was an evil, selfish man who made bad choice after bad choice.
Hubbard said Jones began doing drugs when his marriage broke up and chose to kill his children after finding one son dead so his ex-wife could not have full custody.
“He chose to ignore pleas for mercy from his children as he was strangling them,” Hubbard said.
None of the four family members who testified had much to say about the final year of the children’s lives. Jones stopped talking to them after a fight with his father over religion. They all regretted how he seemed to deteriorate in isolation.
“The man who did this is not the man who is sitting here right now. I’m sorry, Tim. I sit here and look at you and tell you that you aren’t all there any more, brother. I’m sorry you have to go through this too,” said half brother Travis Jones.
The trial is being livestreamed from the Lexington County courthouse.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP .