COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina father convicted of killing his five young children should die for the murders because he made them suffer in a carefully thought out plan to avoid prison, prosecutors said Thursday.
But a lawyer for Timothy Jones Jr. asked the same jurors who convicted him two days earlier to have mercy and choose life in prison without parole because “God could use people in dark places.”
The sentencing phase of Jones’ trial started Thursday with brief opening statements, then took a 30-minute break after a juror started crying hard as the first witness showed the five trash bags found on a hillside near Camden, Alabama, with the bodies of the children inside.
Jones’ children ranged in age from 1 to 8.
Also on Thursday, prosecutors showed short cellphone videos of three of the children sent to their mother by Jones after he left her, saying she could no longer stand how the strictly religious Jones treated her like his inferior.
In the videos, the children are crying or sad, begging their mom to come back. Jones was taken out of the courtroom crying after the videos were shown.
Prosecutors played a tape of a phone call between Jones and family members from prison four months after the killing, where Jones blamed the killings of the children on his anger over his ex-wife, Amber Kyzer, cheating on him with a teenager who lived next door. Jones fought for and won sole custody of the kids.
“We blame Amber on this one. If she had been home doing what she was supposed to do instead bopping the boy next door, none of this happens,” Jones said on the call.
Several days of emotional testimony are expected. Prosecutor Suzanne Mayes promised to tell the stories of each of the children and what made them unique.
She also warned there would be graphic descriptions of what the children went through, calling it torture.
Jones, 37, confessed to exercising 6-year-old Nahtahn until he died after an electrical outlet was broken in his Lexington home in August 2014.
Mayes called it painful, torturous jumping jacks, push ups and other calisthenics for hours.
After finding his son dead, Jones then considered what to do for several hours — watching a prison rape scene from a movie and heading to a store for cigarettes with his oldest child while leaving the others at home with the body — before deciding to kill them all.
Jones would eventually strangle 8-year-old Merah and 7-year-old Elias with his hands and, in his confession, said he used a belt to choke 2-year-old Gabriel and 1-year-old Abigail because his hands were too big.
“He wasn’t going to leave any witnesses alive,” Mayes said.
Jones’ lawyer reminded jurors they have to unanimously choose the death penalty or Jones will get life without parole.
“You don’t have to kill Tim Jones. You don’t kill people who are sick,” defense lawyer Boyd Young said, reminding jurors of extensive testimony over three weeks of the trial that Jones may have had undiagnosed schizophrenia made worse by using synthetic marijuana.
Young asked jurors to try to see Jones as a fragile human being who can help people in prison if his life is spared. Jones put himself through college while married with children, landing an $80,000-a-year computer engineer job in Columbia.
Young also asked the jury to think about Jones’ family and all of their suffering.
“I think Tim’s family has seen enough death. That’s a reason for life for me,” Young said.
The sentencing phase should last several days.
The trial is being livestreamed at the Lexington County courthouse.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP .