In a taped confession played in a hushed Lexington County courtroom Friday, accused child killer Tim Jones Jr. is heard — in his own words — telling law enforcement officers how and why he killed his five children in their Red Bank mobile home in 2014, starting with 6-year-old Nahtahn.
“(Killing) Nahtahn was an accident,” Jones, now 37, is heard saying in a flat Chicago accent . During the 47-minute audio recording, played aloud as the jury listened, riveted, Jones sometimes speaks quickly, sometimes slowly and sometimes tearfully.
After four days of trial, it was the first time Jones’ voice had been heard in the courtroom. And the jury and a sparse audience of court spectators heard the law officers ask polite, almost gentle but insistent questions that finally prompted Jones to confess to one of South Carolina’s most horrific crimes in modern times.
After Nahtahn accidentally died from an overly harsh punishment at their home off S.C. 6 on Aug. 28, 2014, Jones said he thought his only choice was to kill the others, who were sleeping in their beds.
The children struggled as he strangled them, first killing the two older ones — Merah, 8, and Elias, 7 — by strangling them with his hands, and the two younger ones — Gabriel, 2, and Elaine, 1 — by choking them with a belt since their necks were too small to get his hands around them. “They didn’t want their lives taken,” Jones said in the recording.
Elias said, “Take me with ... “, perhaps meaning he wanted to go with this father, and Gabriel said, “I love you,” as he killed them, Jones said, beginning to wail at the end, “I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry!”
“I was just running on fear, and I wasn’t thinking. Any normal person would have said, ‘Let me call the police and turn myself in.’ I took the coward route and started following those voices in my head,” Jones is heard saying. “I’m not thinking anything but I’m screwed ... Logic went out the window.”
While autopsy results have not yet been introduced in court, investigators have previously said that Nahtahn was beaten to death and the other four were strangled.
Jones made the chilling confession in 2014 to two interrogators, FBI agent David Mackey and Lexington County sheriff’s Det. Adam Creech. According to Jones, trouble started after he brought his children home that August evening. A divorced, single father who had custody of the children, Jones said he became angry when he suspected middle child Nahtahn had deliberately blown out four electrical outlets in the home.
“After a series of not getting favorable responses out of him, I tried to use more harsh measures to try to get out of him just what he was doing,” Jones said, speaking rapidly. “I just didn’t know what going on. I was just trying to make sense of it ... It was out of the ordinary, and he wouldn’t tell me.”
To get Nahtahn to confess what he’d done with the electrical outlets, Jones told officers he punished the boy by making him do push-ups and squats for an hour and occasionally spanking him. “I just PT’d (physical training) his a-- ... worked him real hard ‘cause he wouldn’t answer me ...”
Jones said the exercises were “nothing out of the ordinary” and he had previously done them with his children. “We have fun doing it,” he added.
When Nahtahn still wouldn’t fess up, Jones said he told him, “Go to bed, man. You’re wasting everybody’s time.”
A little later, Jones went into Nahtahn’s room and, “I found out he’s deceased. And when I find out he’s deceased ... the voices start going off, oh man!”
Then, Jones told the agents, “I followed suit with the other four.” That statement was followed by Jones crying.
At another point, Jones said he had become convinced his children were conspiring against him and he killed them to protect himself. He intended to kill them and was so incensed nothing could have stopped him.
“When you did this, did you know it was against the law?” one officer asked Jones.
“I wasn’t thinking about the law,” Jones replied. “I knew I was going to get caught. I’m not a good criminal.”
At another point, an officer asked him, “Would you have done this if a uniformed officer had been standing by you?”
Without hesitation, Jones replied, “Yes .... and here’s why. At that point, I saw myself as a target.”
Question: “Did anyone tell you to do this?”
“Voice inside my head,” answered Jones. He said he was not drinking or taking drugs at that time.
Afterward, though he felt terrible at having just ruined his life, he didn’t consider suicide and ruminated on hell. “Hell’s not a fun place ... I don’t want to go there.”
Toward the end of the tape, when asked if there is anything else he would like to say, Jones, his voice cracking with anguish, says, “God, I’m sorry - Children, I hope I see you again someday if I’m worthy to. I’m sorry.”
The interview took place on a Monday, Sept. 8, 2014, two days after he was taken into custody. At the end, Jones told Mackey and Creech he talked to them because they didn’t try to bully him. “There is something about your approach that makes it easy to speak to you.”
Later, Jones told officers he had bought saws to cut up the children’s bodies, starting with Nahtahn, “but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.”
For days after the killing, he wandered here and there driving his Cadillac Escalade around South Carolina and the Southeast with the children’s bodies wrapped in blankets in the back seat.
Finally, he decided to travel to Las Vegas. Going through Alabama, he dropped the children’s bodies, each wrapped in black garbage bags, in a remote heavily forested area off a logging road.
Later that day, he passed through Mississippi, all the while knowing he would be caught. “There ain’t no hiding this. I’m going to get caught,” he said.
On Saturday, Sept. 6, Mississippi deputies conducting a routine traffic safety check stopped him. When they learned from his vehicle license tag that Lexington County authorities had put out a nationwide alert for him, they took him into custody.
Jones’ attorneys are putting up a “not guilty by reason of insanity” defense. But they would settle for a finding of “guilty but mentally ill.’’
A ruling of “not guilty by reason of insanity” would commit Jones to a psychiatric hospital, possibly for the rest of his life. If the jury rules Jones is guilty of murder or “guilty but mentally ill,” the trial would proceed to a second phase where the jury would determine whether Jones got life without parole in prison or death.
Through their witnesses Friday, the prosecution kept making these points: that Jones could not have been insane because he appeared normal to others and, after killing the children, made continuous rational decisions, and that any erratic behavior exhibited by Jones on the day he was arrested in Mississippi came from his smoking synthetic marijuana, which can produce anxiety, hallucinations and paranoia.
But the evidence could also be construed as favorable to the defense: Jones certainly exhibited aberrant behavior, and during his confession, he expressed remorse. In questioning before the trial, prospective jurors told the judge that sincere remorse would be a factor they would consider in giving a life sentence.
Next week, Jones’ ex-wife Amber Jones is expected to take the stand for the prosecution. Testimony has indicated Jones was devastated by their 2013 divorce, that she didn’t want the children and he harbored negative feelings about her.