COLUMBIA — Last week's death sentence for Timothy Jones Jr. means the man who murdered his five children in 2014 will spend the bulk of his days alone in a 6-foot-by-14-foot cell surrounded by 36 other inmates on South Carolina's death row.
How long the 37-year-old will remain on death row at Columbia's Kirkland Correctional Institution is unknown.
The only thing certain about Jones' pending execution is that it won't happen on Nov. 30, the date set by Judge Eugene Griffith, as dictated by state law.
State law also requires an automatic appeal to the state Supreme Court for death sentences, which triggers a barrage of appeal possibilities in multiple state and federal courts with no timeframe for conclusion.
The execution date is "largely a symbolic statement that is somewhat like the novel, 'The Scarlet Letter.' It's a public expression of condemnation that serves no actual practical purpose," said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center, which takes no stance on the death penalty itself.
After jurors decided death for the man who killed all five of his children — ages 1, 2, 6, 7, and 8 — in rural Lexington County, Jones' attorneys gave a long list of objections, including allowing jurors to see autopsy photos of the bodies he dumped along a logging road in Alabama in separate garbage bags nine days after their death and not allowing Jones' grandmother to testify about the horrors of her childhood during the trial's penalty phase.
Griffith promptly denied the request for a new trial. But those objections will be the basis of upcoming appeals.
Life on death row
Now housed in the state's highest-security prison unit, Jones can sit in the same room only with his attorneys.
He can have eight visits monthly from anyone on an approved list, which will likely consist of the family members who pleaded with jurors for a life sentence, but they will be behind a glass barrier.
There's no limit to the number of phone calls he can make, as long as each is less than 15 minutes, according to the state prisons agency.
Jones can socialize with his fellow condemned prisoners one hour a day, five days a week, in the death row's central area, in groups of no larger than six, if he wishes. His cell is on one of eight hallways extending from that center. And he's allowed outside one hour a day, five days a week, weather permitting.
Otherwise, he eats alone in his cell, can worship once a week one-on-one with a chaplain, can shower daily and can visit the unit's law library, which includes a computer. And each cell has a TV with local broadcast stations. Death row inmates can't work a prison job or do anything else to earn money, according to the agency.
In following prison rules, Jones was put on a 72-hour suicide watch when he entered death row last Thursday evening. He was seen by a psychiatrist on Friday.
Jones, who had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, has been taking antipsychotic drugs since his September 2014 arrest. In his closing argument in the penalty phase, defense attorney Boyd Young stacked up bags and bags of pills, representing what Jones has taken while in maximum security pending trial.
The defense team put many experts on the stand who concluded Jones had schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. But a court-appointed forensic psychiatrist, who wasn't paid by either side, concluded Jones was indeed psychotic when he killed his kids, but because of increasing drug use, not schizophrenia, which he believed Jones was faking.
Medical personnel will take Jones' pre-trial evaluations in account when they make their diagnosis and decide his prescription medications going forward, agency spokeswoman Chrysti Shain said.
SC's death penalty
South Carolina is among 29 states with a death penalty, though governors have halted executions in four of those, including California, home to the nation's largest death row of more than 740 prisoners. One of those has also been sentenced to death in South Carolina.
Of the 43 inmates executed in South Carolina since 1985 — when executions in the state resumed after a 1962 federal moratorium — the average time between their sentence and execution was about 12 years, according to state Department of Corrections data.
That average includes nine inmates who voluntarily gave up and asked to die before exhausting their appeals. The prisoner on death row the longest has been there since 1983.
It's been eight years since the state executed anyone.
Jeffrey Motts, the last person executed in South Carolina, died by lethal injection in May 2011 for killing his cellmate in 2005. Already serving a life sentence for fatally shooting two elderly people in Spartanburg County in 1995 while robbing them to buy crack, Motts confessed to strangling his cellmate and was sentenced to death in 2007.
Despite telling his attorneys he wanted to die and abandoning his appeals, his execution didn't occur for more than three years.
Now South Carolina can't carry out an execution unless an inmate chooses to die by electrocution, as three have since 1995, when lethal injection became state law.
But South Carolina has not had the drugs for executions since the state's supply of pentobarbital — one part of the lethal three-drug cocktail — expired. The supply of the other two drugs has expired since.
All efforts to restock have failed because pharmaceutical companies will no longer supply prisons with the drugs needed to kill people, S.C. Corrections director Bryan Stirling has told legislators repeatedly.
Legislation requiring executions by either electrocution or firing squad, if lethal injection is unavailable, passed the state Senate earlier this year. The bill has yet to get a hearing in the House, but debate can pick up in that chamber when legislators return in January.
The lack of drugs hasn't prevented any executions.
Appeals for several inmates are pending in federal courts, which means some are closer to completion than others.
But when appeals for any of them may wrap up is unknown, the state attorney general's office says.