LEXINGTON — It's up to jurors to decide whether Timothy Jones Jr. was "evil" or "insane" when he killed his five young children in 2014.
Both sides made final arguments Monday, the 14th day of the trial. Jurors deliberated for about an hour and a half before calling it a night. Deliberations continue Tuesday morning.
The question is whether Jones knew right from wrong when he killed them. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity on five murder charges. Jurors could also find him guilty but mentally ill as well as guilty or not guilty.
If he's found guilty, he could be sentenced to death.
"You’ve seen godawful stuff by the hands of that man. ...That is just pure evil malice," 11th Circuit Solicitor Rick Hubbard said in his closing argument, disputing testimony from defense experts that Jones has schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. "He’s trying to make himself look mentally ill. He's looking to present to you and everybody, and maybe even himself, that he’s insane."
Jones, 37, killed his children — Merah, 8, Elias, 7, Nahtahn, 6, Gabriel, 2, and Elaine Marie, 1 — at their home in a Red Bank trailer park in August 2014, hours after picking up the oldest three from an after-school program at Saxe Gotha Elementary and the youngest two from the babysitter next door.
In school surveillance video, his children can be heard happily yelling, "Daddy! Daddy!" when he walks in the door.
That alone is evidence he's crazy, countered public defender Boyd Young.
"Killing children you love is insane," Young said to begin and end his closing.
Both sides used props to make their final points. Hubbard showed jurors Nahtahn's mangled "Toy Story" Woody doll, his favorite toy, as evidence of Jones' rage at the time. Boyd stacked up bags and bags of pills, representing the medications Jones has taken since his arrest in September 2014.
"He’s not sick, according to the state. He’s just enjoying taking all these meds," Young said. "He’s taking such high dosages, someone who’s not mentally ill couldn’t possibly function."
According to Jones, 6-year-old Nahtahn died first. Authorities weren’t able to conclusively determine how. Jones insists the child died in his bed following sets of push-ups, sit-ups and squats that Jones made him do in an unsuccessful attempt to get an explanation for why several electrical outlets were blown.
Nahtahn’s death sent the divorced father into panic mode. He figured he’d be blamed and imprisoned. Trying to calm down, he went out for cigarettes and took Merah with him. On the way home, a "creepy gremlin voice" told him to kill his other children, Jones told psychiatrists who testified last week.
In his thinking, the children would be better off together in heaven than in the foster system, as he assumed his ex-wife didn't want them.
"Does it make sense? No. It’s crazy. You can’t rationalize crazy. But at the time, he thought it was the right thing to do," Young said.
Jones confessed to strangling the oldest two with his hands and the youngest two with a belt, kissing them goodbye as he crushed their windpipes.
He then tossed their bodies in the back seat of his Cadillac Escalade, wrapped in their own bed sheets, and drove around the Southeast for nine days as he searched online for ways to dispose of the bodies, at one point doubling back to South Carolina, where he bought a saw, blades, muriatic acid and a dust mask from a Walmart near his home.
After nine days of meandering back roads, he was stopped at a traffic checkpoint in rural Mississippi. The nostril-burning stench of decomposition, synthetic marijuana and bleach emanating from the vehicle prompted the officer, who mistook the rank odor for a meth lab, to pull Jones over and arrest him.
Jones initially gave authorities a string of lies, progressing from claims he had no children, that he had only three who were left with their mother, to assertions he kicked them out of his vehicle near a Walmart. But on the second day of questioning from investigators — aided by his father, who desperately wanted to know the whereabouts of his grandchildren — Jones eventually confessed and agreed to lead authorities to his children's bodies, which he'd left in separate plastic bags along a logging road in rural Alabama hours before his arrest.
"He could’ve at least buried them, but he left them for wild animals," Hubbard said. "They looked like garbage."
The defense painted Jones, an Intel computer engineer, as having a "diseased and damaged brain" that was doomed by genetics, abuse and neglect in the early years when the brain is forming, domestic violence in his home growing up and a serious car accident at age 15, which left him with a fractured skull. Jones' mother, who bathed him in cold water and fed him laxatives as an infant, was no longer in the picture by the time Jones was 2½ and has been institutionalized in New York with schizophrenia for decades, his father and grandmother testified.
But court-appointed psychiatrist Richard Frierson, not paid by either side, said up to 90 percent of the children of schizophrenia patients are never diagnosed with it. He concluded Jones, who always feared he'd get schizophrenia, was exaggerating symptoms and faking the disorder to be able to live with what he did. Frierson instead blamed the synthetic marijuana Jones increasingly smoked in the months leading to the children's death.
The defense countered the drugs exacerbated his underlying illness.
"Voluntary consumption of drugs is not a defense," Hubbard said. "If you ingest drugs and do something horrible, sorry, you’re out of luck."