LEXINGTON — Timothy Jones Jr. told a psychiatrist he strangled four of his children after he accidentally killed his 6-year-old because he thought it best "if they were just all together," Dr. Richard Frierson told jurors Thursday.
Jones, who is pleading not guilty by reason of insanity, was not obeying the delusional voices in his head, as the defense claims, but rather his own anxious thoughts. Jones knew when he killed his children at their trailer in rural Lexington County in August 2014 that his actions were legally and morally wrong, said Frierson, the court-appointed psychiatrist who has interviewed Jones for a total of 19 hours over six days since 2016.
"He figured, 'it's a matter of time before I get arrested, I may as well take a trip to Vegas'," Frierson said Jones told him. Since his ex-wife "didn't want them and he was going to go away ... he felt, in a sense, morally justified, which is much different than not knowing it was morally wrong."
Frierson, called as a defense witness, stressed he was giving his opinion only, not advocating for either the defense or prosecution.
Jones does not dispute killing his children — ages 1, 2, 6, 7 and 8. After his arrest at a traffic checkpoint in rural Mississippi, he eventually confessed to dumping their bodies in black garbage bags along a logging road in Alabama — on his way to gamble in Las Vegas — after driving around the Southeast with their bodies in his Cadillac Escalade for nine days.
Six-year-old Nahtahn died first. It's unclear how, but Jones insists the middle child died accidentally from excessive discipline, following sets of push ups, sit ups and squats Jones made Nahtahn do in an unsuccessful attempt to get an explanation for why several electrical outlets were blown. His death sent the divorced father into panic mode and prompted voices in his head, according to his confession. He strangled the oldest two with his hands and the youngest two with a belt, he said.
After Nahtahn died, he searched online and watched a prison rape scene from a movie and thought, "I'm going to go to prison, and they'll do bad things to me. They'll think I'm a baby killer." Then he went to a convenience store to buy 10 packs of cigarettes and "on the way home heard a creepy gremlin voice that told him to kill the kids. He described the voice as inside his head and very brief and fleeting," Frierson said.
But it was not schizophrenic. For starters, delusions don't start suddenly, Frierson said.
The psychiatrist diagnosed him instead with substance-induced psychotic disorder, cannabis-use disorder and mild alcohol-use disorder. He believes Jones was greatly influenced by the synthetic marijuana he used increasingly in the months leading up to the killings, which Jones thought calmed his anxieties and mellowed him out.
"He said he’d wake and bake — get up first thing in the morning and use Spice," Frierson said, noting that credit card receipts confirm the increased purchases. "Spice took over. He was addicted to Spice. Five times a day he would use it."
As for the voices, Frierson said Jones gave as examples the questions bombarding him when his wife of eight years, Amber, left him for the neighbor's teenage son.
"What am I going to do? How am I going to take care of five kids? ... This is what most of us would think" amid a stressful divorce and getting sole custody, Frierson said. "It became clear to me what he calls voices are anxious thoughts he doesn't like experiencing."
Jones' father, Tim Jones, testified Wednesday his son inherited schizophrenia from his mother, who's been institutionalized in New York for decades. As partial proof, the elder Jones said he recognized his son's crazed look and erratic behavior when he helped investigators question him about his grandchildren's whereabouts.
But Frierson believes Timothy Jones Jr.'s withdrawal from Spice explains those manic symptoms. If it were schizophrenia, Jones wouldn't have been calm and no longer sweating profusely during his second post-arrest interview the next day, as his father and multiple investigators have testified. Schizophrenia doesn't fix itself without medication, Frierson said.
Also, while schizophrenia is hereditary, 85 percent of people who have a parent with the illness never get it, Frierson said.
While Jones told investigators he feared his children were plotting to kill him and feed him to the dogs, he later told Frierson he was making that up, the psychiatrist said.
"He was exaggerating claims so he could convince himself he was mentally ill," Frierson said. "He was always worried he had schizophrenia. His mother had schizophrenia. He assumed these anxious thoughts he was having was schizophrenia so he could live with what he did."