Babysitters: Man accused of killing 5 kids doting, strict
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina man who confessed to killing his five children was both a doting father and a demanding disciplinarian who beat them with a belt — once during a trip to Disney World — several babysitters testified at his death penalty trial Wednesday.
The babysitters were among two dozen witnesses called by Timothy Jones Jr.’s defense as they argue he is not guilty by reason of insanity in the deaths of his children.
Prosecutors said Jones strangled and beat his children, ages 1, 2, 6, 7 and 8, in their Lexington home in August 2014 after snapping over the middle child breaking an electrical outlet.
For much of his defense, Jones’ lawyers called doctors and other experts to discuss a brain injury he suffered in a car crash as a teen and whether Jones, 37, had schizophrenia which would have prevented him from knowing right from wrong as he killed his kids.
But on Wednesday, testimony shifted to the babysitters and Jones’ father, who said on the witness stand that his son wasn’t worthy to raise children because of his overly religious beliefs.
Joy Lorick was a babysitter who accompanied the Jones family to Disney and on a beach vacation in the months before their deaths. She cried as she remembered how much fun the children had on those trips and as defense lawyers showed pictures of the beaming children with Cinderella and with mouse ears on.
She also cried when she told a prosecutor she called social workers in August 2014 after seeing Jones whip 6-year-old Nahtahn and 2-year-old Gabriel with a belt. That investigation was open when the kids were killed.
Lorick also remembered Jones getting furious when he found someone had painted 8-year-old Mera’s fingernails because he said women were supposed to wear long skirts and not have flashy accessories. And she recalled how Jones made the 2-year-old eat alone when he wouldn’t close his mouth to chew.
“They loved their daddy. And I know they loved their daddy,” Lorick said. “But they just knew when they did something you could tell they were going to get in trouble a lot.”
Chrystal Ballentine testified she started babysitting for Jones just after turning 17 and quickly became his live-in girlfriend. She said he became “over-angry” about small things and didn’t try to calm himself before disciplining the children. She said she could hear him beat his children through the walls of their home.
Ballentine said her relationship with Jones started to sour when he started controlling what she wore. She said the last straw was when Jones looked like he was going to spank her daughter, who was not quite 1, when she knocked over a drink while grabbing a table to try to walk.
“He knew what was right and wrong. He knew about God. He knew about what you should do in life. He was pretty sure about himself. He was pretty sure about everything,” Ballentine testified.
If the jury finds Jones guilty, then the trial moves into a penalty phase to decide if he is sentenced to life without parole or death. The defense appeared to be questioning witnesses in part with that possibility in mind as they tried to elicit sympathy for Jones. They portrayed him as a single father with five children who had a rough upbringing but pulled himself together to get an $80,000 computer engineer job before slowly losing control after he left his wife because she was unfaithful.
Wednesday afternoon, the defense called Jones’ father, Timothy Jones Sr., to the stand to try to hammer home those points. The father testified that Jones saw his grandparents physically fight with each other and other people and there was drug and alcohol use — although “no LSD or (expletive) like that,” he said.
Jones Sr. cursed so casually and so often on the stand that Judge Eugene Griffith admonished him about an hour into his testimony that his language was “too salty.”
Jones Sr. said the son he saw on trial was the man he was always scared he was going to see after his mother was sent to a mental institution for decades for schizophrenia.
“It’s unfortunate. It’s just bad DNA, I guess. He’s just a sick man,” the father said.
Jones Sr. said he was proud of his son for making it through college and getting a nice computer job, but he didn’t think he had the right stuff to be a father, especially to five children. When his son told him his wife was cheating, Jones Sr. said he first cracked a joke about who she could possibly have found, and then gave him some advice.
“Let her take the kids. Pay your child support. Be the hero every two weeks,” Jones Sr. said.
The trial is being livestreamed from the Lexington County courthouse.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP