Babysitter holds back tears while testifying about Tim Jones’ children
When a Mississippi veteran lawman arrived at a traffic safety stop in 2014 where his deputies had stopped accused child killer Tim Jones Jr., the lawman did not yet know anyone had been murdered .
But he knew something was terribly wrong.
“As I approached ... (Jones’ Cadillac) Escalade, the window was down. I noticed a foul odor coming from somewhere,” said Marty Patterson, the undersheriff — or chief deputy — of Smith County, Mississippi. “It was the smell of decomposition.”
That answer led prosecutor Rick Hubbard, who was questioning Patterson Wednesday before a jury of Lexington County men and women, to his next question. “You’ve been in law enforcement 38 years. Have you smelled that smell before?”
“I have,” replied Patterson, 62. “I call it the smell of death.”
Patterson was the last of eight witnesses put up Wednesday by the prosecution in Jones’ trial. Prosecutor Hubbard used the undersheriff’s testimony to explain how Jones — whom Lexington County police had been searching for, along with his five missing children — was finally brought into custody and made to reveal where he had dumped the children’s bodies. Jones is believed to have killed them in his Red Bank home, then driven around the Southeast for nine days with their bodies in the back of his car, according to investigators.
The 37-year-old divorced father, who worked at computer chip-maker Intel in Blythewood, is charged with the August 2014 murders of all five children: Merah, 8; Elias, 7; Nahtahn, 6; Gabriel, 2 and Elaine, 1. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty while the defense claims that Jones was insane when he killed the children and did not know right from wrong. They seek to commit Jones, who they say has schizophrenia, to a secure psychiatric hospital.
Around 8 p.m. on Sept. 6, 2014, Jones was stopped by two Mississippi deputies during a routine safety check outside the small town of Raleigh. They noticed a stench coming from Jones’ car and, after seeing a bucket of chemicals in the vehicle, they thought they had stumbled upon a meth lab. They put Jones in a patrol car and called Patterson.
By the time Patterson arrived, deputies had run a license tag check and learned from a nationwide alert by Lexington County officers that Jones was wanted in connection with his missing South Carolina children. What Patterson saw in the Escalade alarmed him, especially when he saw bleach spots on the flooring in Jones’ car.
“That ran the flag up for me. Why would anybody pour bleach into a Cadillac Escalade?” Patterson told the jury.
Over the next three days, Mississippi police officers, with the help of Jones’ father, Tim Jones Sr., questioned Jones and eventually got him to confess the children were dead and he had left their bodies in garbage bags off a logging road in rural Alabama, some 200 miles from where he’d been taken into custody, Patterson testified.
Prosecutors used their Wednesday witnesses to develop three themes for the jury:
▪ A chronological narrative of what took place from the time Jones was last seen on the evening of Aug. 28, 2014, after picking up his children from school and day care, to when Mississippi deputies took him into custody eight days later. Receipts in Jones’ car showed he had been in Orangeburg, Alabama and Mississippi. He had visited a Taco Bell, a Wal-Mart and doughnut shops.
One of Jones’ last stops was at an Alabama convenience store, hours before he was taken into custody in Mississippi. The stench Jones exuded was “awful, awful — like the worse case of B.O.,” convenience store clerk Linda Watkins told the jury.
▪ Jones acted normally to everyone, so he couldn’t have been insane, prosecutors say. The clerk Watkins told the jury that although Jones smelled horribly, he was polite and respectful. “He said ‘Yes, ma’am’,’ not acting like he was high, not jumpy or jittery.”
▪ Evidence will show that Jones might have experienced a severe reaction to synthetic marijuana, which is known to cause sickness and psychological reactions. A brand of synthetic cannabinoids, called Scooby Snax, was found in his vehicle, along with a bent Starbucks two-shot energy drink can that Mississippi deputies testified likely had been used to smoke the synthetic chemical known to alter behavior.
For two days after he was taken into custody, Jones exhibited symptoms of heavy sweating and nonsensical statements while undergoing questioning by Mississippi lawmen and his father, who they allowed to sit in on the sessions in hopes the elder Jones could persuade his son to reveal what happened to the children.
One of the statements Jones made to Mississippi law officers was that he “thinks his kids want to kill him,” defense attorney Casey Secor brought out on cross-examination.
While at the safety check point, Jones initially told deputies, “I don’t have any children.” Then he told them he had three children. Then he told them he had left the children with his ex-wife, Amber Jones, in South Carolina. But Lexington County law officers had checked with her, and she didn’t have them, Patterson testified.
Earlier Wednesday, other witnesses had testified about the last day Jones and the children had been seen in South Carolina on Aug. 28, 2014 and how normal Jones had seemed, especially at his Intel job.
The computer chip manufacturer only wanted the smartest and best people, and that’s why they hired Tim Jones for its Columbia operation, testified Jones’s boss Wednesday morning.
“We looked for people who could work well in teams, who were autonomous, self-motivated, self-driven ...(and) intelligent,” said James McConnell, a computer expert who led a 20-person quality control unit on which Jones worked from about 2011 to 2013.
Jones, whom McConnell also described as “fun to work with,” was hired in 2011 at the salary of $69,000 a year and had such a good evaluation in early 2014 that he was promoted and given a salary of $81,000, McConnell testified.
The four morning witnesses all knew Jones either from working with him or interacting with him in day care or school settings.
Their testimony — in which prosecutors elicited statements of Jones’ normalcy — was designed to counter the defense’s contention that Jones was insane when he killed his children. Specifically, the defense contends that Jones became convinced that his children were going to chop him up and feed him to the dogs on the night he went mad and that what he did, he did in his own defense.
Three of Wednesday morning’s witnesses testified that Jones acted normally on the early evening of Aug. 28, 2014, when he picked up three of his children at Saxe Gotha Elementary School in Lexington and the other two at the mobile home of Christina Ehlke, the family babysitter who lived next door.
Jan Wise, who oversaw the aftercare program at Saxe Gotha Elementary, testified that the evening Jones came to pick up his three older children about 6:15 pm, everything seemed fine.
“Did he ever appear afraid of his children?” deputy prosecutor Suzanne Mayes asked Wise.
“No,” replied Wise.
Mayes played a surveillance video taken that night in which Jones’ children at Saxe Gotha can be heard exclaiming delightedly, “Daddy!” when he showed up.
Ehlke also testified that all was normal on Aug. 28, 2014, when Jones arrived to pick them up.
“The children were happy to see him — as always,” she testified, at times dabbing her eyes with a tissue as she fought back tears.
Jones always responded when she contacted him via text, Ricard testified. But she did think it was unusual that several times on school disciplinary matters, Jones requested punishments for his children that seemed odd. Once, for example, he asked if the school could take one child to visit a jail. Ricard said she told him that might be an appropriate teaching tool for a middle schooler, but not for an elementary school child.
Wednesday morning’s witnesses testified that Jones’s behavior might have at times seemed a little odd but it was still within normal bounds.
Ehlke testified that Jones was “socially awkward” but a “very highly intelligent” person whose moods could be “up and down.”
At Intel, in the final weeks before Jones failed to show up at work on Aug. 29, Jones was behaving differently, McConnell said.
“He lost weight, he started smoking, he looked definitely tired,” McConnell testified, adding that Jones started being late with some of his work after always being on time. “But his work was still good. It was just that it was coming in later than expected.”
The trial continues 9 a.m. Thursday.