LEXINGTON — Timothy Jones Jr.'s ex-wife told jurors Tuesday she wants mercy for the man who murdered their five children in 2014, even though the "momma bear" in her wants him to experience what they did and get the death penalty.
The same jurors who found Jones guilty last week of murdering the children — ages 1, 2, 6, 7 and 8 — must decide whether to sentence him to death or life in prison.
Amber Kyzer was subpoenaed by Jones' defense team to talk about her opposition to the death penalty.
Asked by defense attorney Boyd Young whether she wanted mercy, she responded, "I do. I don't say it lightly. He did not show my children mercy by any means, but my children loved him."
Then she looked straight at Jones and said, "Nothing justifies what you’ve done. There’s nothing you could possibly say to justify what you’ve done to my babies."
According to Jones' confession after his arrest in rural Mississippi, the middle child, 6-year-old Nahtahn, died first at their trailer in rural Lexington County. Authorities weren't able to determine exactly how. But Jones said the child died in his bed after doing forced sets of sit-ups, squats and other exercises for roughly an hour. He confessed to killing the other children several hours later, strangling the oldest two with his bare hands and the youngest two with a belt, since his hands were too big.
Jones claimed he was obeying an angry gremlin voice in his head telling him to kill his children. But by finding him guilty on all counts, the jurors rejected his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
"I pray for you often, and I say that without excusing what he’s done," Kyzer said, turning back to the jury. "I say that wholeheartedly from the depths of my soul. There’s been so much loss."
On cross-examination by prosecutors, Kyzer made clear she'd respect whatever choice the jury makes, saying she's personally conflicted.
"I hear what my kids went through and endured and, as a mother, if I could personally rip his face off, I would. That’s the momma bear in me, wanting him to feel everything they felt. I don’t personally feel I have the right to put anyone’s life in my hands," she said.
Kyzer told jurors she didn't know the details of what her ex-husband did to her children until the trial.
"I was finding out with you guys and the world what had happened to my children. So in retrospect, the mom in me was like, 'Fry him. Fry him, absolutely.' ... But I’m a strong believer in no death penalty."
Kyzer was more composed than she was last month when she broke down while testifying during the guilt phase of the trial. "They are my babies. They should still be here," she screamed as she was pulled from the witness stand in May.
On the stand again Tuesday, Kyzer took the opportunity to dispute previous testimony, saying it was Jones who left the home first in 2012, not her. She had the children, but Jones turned off the electricity, leaving her with no way to provide for them, since he hadn't allowed her to have a job or driver's license. In their nine years of marriage, she said, her only breaks were weekly dinners at his dad's home — before they moved to South Carolina in 2011 for his job at Intel, and then she had none. She also said her now-husband was 24 when they got together, not a teenager.
"I had nothing to offer my children. I could not provide for them. As a mother, I was making the best choice that I could," she said about giving Jones custody. "I trusted my husband at the time because he gave me no reason not to. He was a good father when we were married."
Yet the violence between them is why she ultimately decided to split, she said, as she didn't want her children growing up in such a volatile household. That included a phone thrown at her face, breaking her back teeth. Another time he head-butted her, causing her to lose consciousness. And 8-year-old Merah saw him spit in Kyzer's face and smack her head against the car window, she testified, adding she could be violent to him, as well.
She disputed accusations she skipped her visits with the children. Jones told psychiatrists he strangled the four children because he figured he'd be imprisoned and thought they'd be better off in heaven together than in the foster system, since, according to him, Kyzer didn't want them.
Kyzer said she had no idea until listening to the trial's four weeks of testimony that her children may have thought that. Jones often made visits virtually impossible, she said, as he set places and times that didn't work with her new job at Walmart. It was part of his manipulation. He was "tormenting me" with the children in an effort to get her to come back home, she said.
"I always let them know you’re loved, wanted and important," she said, saying her fondest last memory of Nahtahn was him running to her across a restaurant parking lot and hugging her tightly. "I try to hold on to that because if they died thinking I didn’t want them, it’s just going to kill me."
Her testimony came a day after Jones' father and grandmother, who helped raise him, asked jurors to spare his life. Both said they can't take anymore heartache.
His father, Tim Jones Sr., took his shirt off to show jurors the images of his five grandchildren, tattooed on his back.
"Our family’s been through enough," said Roberta Thornsberry, the grandmother Jones Jr. called mom. "That would be the final nail in the coffin. I just don’t think I could take anymore. I love him with all my heart. I don’t think when you love someone it ever goes away.”
Jamie Lovegrove contributed to this report.