COLUMBIA — For a decade, Johnathon Stone has taught young children at Saxe Gotha Elementary School in Lexington. But when the next school year begins, he will have transferred to another school.
The reason, Stone explained through tears in court Friday, is that he can no longer handle the haunting memories Saxe Gotha brings him of one of his former kindergarten students: Natahn Jones, who was one of five children murdered by their father, Timothy Jones Jr., in 2014.
"I see him every day in his little white T-shirt with his little pizza stains on it," Stone said, weeping. "I see him walking down the kindergarten hallways — he's there one minute and the next minute he's gone... I can't stand to be at that school and see him in the halls everyday.
"I need a change, and that change is something that's going to allow me to move on with my life, hopefully, because it's really affected it," he said.
Jones was found guilty of murdering his five children at their trailer in rural Lexington County.
Jurors now face deciding whether Jones will face a death sentence or life in prison.
In opening statements Thursday, 11th Circuit Deputy Solicitor Suzanne Mayes argued Jones' actions "can only be described as evil — a clear and unmistakable evil."
A death sentence would render justice for his crimes, she said.
"He bears sole responsibility for the murders of his children," Mayes said. "He bears responsibility for the suffering that has been inflicted for the rest of the lives of everyone who loved them so dearly."
Defense attorney Boyd Young praised the jury for thoughtfully deliberating Jones' guilt, but he encouraged them to each consider whether there are mitigating circumstances in Jones' life that should instead lead him to spend the rest of his days behind bars.
"You don’t have to kill Tim Jones," Young said. "We don’t kill people who are sick."
To demonstrate the impact of the murders beyond Jones' family, the prosecution called several teachers to testify about their experiences with the children, displaying both photos of them playing and certificates they won for their work.
Emotions ran so high at times that the judge needed to call for a break when a juror started crying and Jones could be seen breaking down, dabbing away tears with a handkerchief.
Janet Ricard, the former assistant principal at the elementary school of the three oldest children, described them as "wonderful" and explained how the school memorialized them by creating a beach-themed mural, with images of turtles representing each of the children.
Asked at the end of her testimony how the crimes impacted her personally, a crying Ricard said, “They still impact me.”
Joy Lorick, a babysitter who contacted the Department of Social Services in 2014 due to her concerns about how Jones was treating the children, said she "just fell in the ground" when she received the call informing her of what had happened to them.
Being around the children, Lorick said, would lift up anyone's spirits, even if they were having a bad day.
"Right after this, I couldn't sleep, I would just stay up all night pacing and walking the floors," Lorick said.
Jacquelyn Moran, who taught Eli in 1st grade, said she became very close to him, and he was a popular buddy selection for classmates at reading time.
"I struggle daily," Moran said of the impact on her. "I see his friends. It's hard. Some days are easier. But he is always there."
After the prosecution team rested their case early Friday, the defense called two witnesses: Pastor Kerry Breen, an ordained minister who provided spiritual support to Jones after his arrest, and Lexington County Sheriff's Sgt. Barry Sowards, who has been overseeing Jones during the trial.
Breen testified that his impression was Jones has a "real faith," and he believes he could still have a positive impact on society in the remainder of his life, even from prison. Sowards testified that Jones has not given him any problems during the trial and has been courteous and compliant.
The sentencing phase of the trial is set to continue Monday.