South Carolina

Accused child killer Tim Jones led police to bodies, screaming ‘Over there!’

Saw blades and other disturbing evidence found in Tim Jones’ car

Forensic Scientist Stacy Jones goes through evidence found in Tim Jones' Cadillac Escalade including muriatic acid and saw blades. Jones is accused of killing his 5 young children in 2014.
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Forensic Scientist Stacy Jones goes through evidence found in Tim Jones' Cadillac Escalade including muriatic acid and saw blades. Jones is accused of killing his 5 young children in 2014.

Accused Lexington County child killer Tim Jones Jr., wearing an orange jail jumpsuit and handcuffs, led a caravan of police in 2014 on a three-hour drive, traveling some 170 miles to a rural logging road in central Alabama.

Jones had promised police he would lead them to the spot where he had dumped the bodies of his five children, ages 1-8, according to an investigator who testified Thursday during Jones’ death penalty trial.

“(Jones) was crying, and he yelled, ‘They’re over there!’ and he pointed,” testified former Mississippi Bureau of Investigation officer Eric Johnson, who lifted both his hands together — as if he were handcuffed — to demonstrate exactly what Jones had done.

“I walked over the knoll several yards, and 60-70 yards (away), I observed the bags,” Johnson testified Thursday before a Lexington County jury on the third day of Jones’ trial.

Inside the black garbage bags were the bodies of Jones’ children: Merah, 8; Elias, 7; Nahtahn, 6; Gabriel, 2 and Elaine, 1. From a distance, officers could see the bags had been disturbed by animals, Johnson testified.

That was on Sept. 9, 2014, after Jones had undergone two emotional interrogations at a Mississippi courthouse by Johnson, Smith County sheriff’s deputies and Jones’ father, Tim Jones Sr., 62, who lived in Amory, Mississippi, all of whom were trying to find the children. Finally, Jones agreed to lead officers’ to the bodies, ending an eight-day search.

The area where Jones dumped the bodies was “a hunter’s paradise,” Johnson testified, out in the middle of vast tracts of Alabama timberland.

As remote as the area was, within minutes, there were three Alabama law enforcement helicopters on the scene and dozens of local, state and federal law enforcement, and the area was taped off.

That was 11 days after the night of Aug. 28, 2014, when indictments accuse Jones of killing the children at the family’s Red Bank mobile home. He then loaded their bodies into his Cadillac Escalade and embarked on a wandering, macabre journey throughout South Carolina and the Southeast, say investigators, before dumping the children in Alabama and being taken into custody quite by chance at a routine safety checkpoint near the small town of Raleigh, Mississippi.

At that stop, on Sept. 6, 2014, deputies initially believed they had caught a methamphetamine dealer because of the car’s stench and chemicals they observed in the Escalade. But a license tag check quickly revealed that Lexington County authorities were searching for Jones, a single father who had gone missing along with his five children.

Now, after nearly five years, 11th Circuit Solicitor Rick Hubbard is seeking the death penalty against Jones. Jones’s defense attorneys, who include Boyd Young, Rob Madsen and Casey Secor, seek a verdict of “not guilty by reason of insanity” — a verdict that would send Jones to a secure psychiatric hospital for a likely long stay. Another possibility is “guilty but mentally ill.” If the jury decides Jones is “guilty but mentally ill,” the trial would automatically enter a penalty phase in which the jury would then decide whether Jones would get a death sentence, or life without parole in state prison.

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Crucial parts of Thursday’s testimony focused on two interrogation sessions — one on Sept. 7, 2014, and one the next day — that law officers had with Jones.

At the first session, Jones’s behavior was extreme, testified Johnson.

“He would be from one extreme to the other, extremely loud and teary,” testified Johnson. “Beads of sweat appeared to be on the end of every hair on his head.

“He would scream out that it was Cindy (his mother, who was institutionalized for mental illness) that put these voices in his head, and Cindy passed this on to him. She put this poison in his head.

“He said, ‘After Amber (Jones’ ex-wife) left me, I couldn’t control it. Voices are in my head,’ ” Johnson testified.

Tim and Amber Jones were divorced in 2013, records show.

When Tim Jones Sr., Jones’ father, told his son that he would get him whatever mental health he needed, the younger Jones replied, “The only way you can help me is put a bullet in my head.” Mississippi law officers had contacted Jones Sr., who lived not far away, and — in an unusual move — had brought him to the questioning session to help convince Jones Jr. to reveal what had happened to the children.

The elder Jones asked his son where the children were, and Jones Jr. replied, “When I tell you, I’m going to hang myself.”

Jones Jr. then told his father and the officers that he had pushed the children out of his vehicle on a road near his house, and ”one of his sons, Nahthan, threatened to kill him by cutting him up and feeding him to the dogs,” Johnson testified.

Finally, the elder Jones asked his son, “Did you hurt the kids?” Jones blurted out “Yes,” and then he said “No,” testified Johnson. Then he screamed, “Oh, God, what did I do?”

After about 80 minutes, that session wrapped up. The next day, South Carolina law officers including Lexington County deputies, State Law Enforcement Division agents and an FBI agent came to Mississippi and interviewed a much calmer Jones. During that interview, he admitted strangling the children and agreed to lead officers to the bodies in Alabama.

“Timothy was sorry for what he had done and told his father there was no way he (his father) would love him now,” Johnson testified.

The only other witness to testify Thursday was Stacy Jones, a 23-year veteran crime scene analyst with the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation who spent hours on the witness stand, telling the Lexington County jury about the contents of Jones’ Escalade, including what appeared to be hair and human tissue. She took 345 photos of the vehicle’s interior, documenting everything from blood stains to hundreds of Jones’ family snap shots.

JONES_TG1542
Forensic Scientist Stacy Jones is questioned by 11th Circuit deputy Solicitor Shawn Graham during the trail of Tim Jones in Lexington. Jones processed evidence from Tim Jones’ car. Timothy Jones, Jr. is accused of killing his 5 young children in 2014. Jones, who faces the death penalty, has pleaded guilty by reason of insanity. 5/16/19 Tracy Glantz tglantz@thestate.com

The car’s content included hundreds of items, a trove of evidence for both the prosecution and defense that included articles of children’s clothing, Muratic Acid, saws, laptops, cellphones, children’s Bibles, religious cassette tapes, birth certificates, Tim Jones’ 2011 diploma from Mississippi State University, handwritten letters from Amber Jones to the couple’s children in which she told them she loved them, the couple’s Illinois marriage licenses, and notes and pictures from his children to him, expressing their love for him. Another item in the car was a book entitled “A baby is a treasure.”

The crime scene analyst also described a chilling to-do list she found on a clipboard in the front seat passenger area. The first item on the list: “Head to campground, melt bodies, saw bones to dust or small pieces,” Stacy Jones testified.

On another part of the same paper, the to-do list read, “Day one, burn up bodies. Day two, sand down bones. Day three .... there’s a smiley face, and it says, Dissolve and discard,” continued Stacy Jones.

Timothy Ray Jones, Jr. is accused of killing his five children and dumping their bodies in Alabama in 2014.

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