COLUMBIA, S.C.—A South Carolina father charged with killing his five children was insane at the time of the slayings, a psychiatrist testified Friday—the final defense witness but the first to say that about the defendant.
Lawyers defending Timothy Jones Jr. called more than two dozen witnesses, including friends, relatives and mental health experts, over seven days. The defense rested its case Friday.
The friends and family testified about a doting father devastated after his marriage fell apart. Jones turned to alcohol and drugs and felt guilty because of his fervent religious beliefs, they said.
The other mental health experts testified that Jones’ skull had a permanent dent after a car wreck in his teens; he heard voices telling him to kill his kids; and he worried he had inherited schizophrenia from his mother, who has spent decades in a mental intuition.
But before Friday’s testimony from psychiatrist Julie Rand Dorney, none of the experts testified that they thought Jones couldn’t legally tell right from wrong when he killed his children, ages 1 to 8, in their Lexington home in 2014.
The stress and drug-use built as Jones juggled an $80,000 a year computer-engineering job and being the sole caretaker of the five children, Dorney said. She testified that in the weeks before the killing his calendar was crammed to 15-minute increments with items like “learn Spanish,” ″pray with children” and “learn Hebrew.”
All that stress and a synthetic marijuana habit made Jones’ undiagnosed schizophrenia worse until he snapped and went temporarily insane, Dorney said.
“It was obviously at its worst point when this happened,” Dorney said.
Jones’ attorneys will ask the jury to find him not guilty by reason of insanity because he didn’t know right from wrong either morally or legally.
In cross-examining Dorsey, prosecutors pointed out Jones made internet searches on how to destroy bodies and keep specially-trained dogs from finding decomposing corpses.
Prosecutors also noted that after Jones’ 6-year-old son Nahtahn died, which Jones said happened after he punished the boy with exercise for breaking an electrical outlet, the father waited six hours—including a trip to a convenience store to get cigarettes and watching a prison rape scene from a movie—before he killed the other four kids, according to bank records and his own confession.
Prosecutors said they have one rebuttal witness Monday. Then both sides will give closing arguments before jurors decide whether Jones is guilty of five counts of murder. If he is convicted, a separate, second trial will be held to decide if he gets death, or life in prison without parole.
One defense witness was Dr. Richard Frierson: the psychiatrist who was ordered to determine if Jones was still insane, or mentally competent to stand trial.
Frierson determined Jones was sane now and knew moral and legal right from wrong when he killed each child. Jones said after finding Nahtahn dead, he strangled 8-year-old Mera and 7-year-old Elias with his hands and 2-year-old Gabriel and 1-year-old Abigail with a belt. In various confessions, Jones said the three children who could talk told them that they loved him as he choked them.
Jones said he didn’t call 911 because police wouldn’t believe his story. And he didn’t want his ex-wife, Amber, to get custody of the other children, Frierson testified.
“Amber didn’t want them. He was going to go away. He grew up without his mother. He thought it would be better if they were just all together. So he made a decision and a conscious choice to kill them,” Frierson said.
After killing the kids, Jones wrapped their bodies in plastic and drove around with them in the back of his SUV for more than a week before dumping them on a hillside near Camden, Alabama. He was taken into custody at a drunken driving checkpoint in Smith County, Mississippi after an officer said he smelled a terrible odor of decomposition.
Jones said he was responding to voices in his head as he drove. But Frierson said he saw no evidence that what Jones was hearing was psychotic; instead he was hearing the inner dialogue many people have under stress.
“What he calls voices are really anxious thoughts that he doesn’t like experiencing,” Frierson said.
The trial is being live-streamed from the Lexington County courthouse.