Timothy Ray Jones Jr. is facing the death penalty in connection with the deaths of his five children in Red Bank more than 15 months ago.
Eleventh Circuit Solicitor Donald Myers served notice of that decision at a court hearing Wednesday in Lexington County attended by Jones in his first court appearance in more than a year in what is one of the largest mass murders in the Midlands in decades.
Jones listened intently when consulted privately by his lawyers but said little during the hearing other than to confirm his identity and request a jury trial.
He often stared at the wall ahead, occasionally turning to listen to a comment. He was dressed in a red sweater and khaki pants, wearing glasses with his head shaved.
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Jones is charged with five counts of murder in the deaths of his children – Merah, 8, Elias, 7, Nahtahn, 6, Gabriel, 2, and Elaine, 1. Authorities believe he killed the children at the family home in Red Bank on Aug. 28, 2014, after picking them up from school and day care.
Authorities eventually found the bodies buried in shallow graves in Alabama. The traffic stop ended his odyssey of more than a week of driving through the Southeast, the bodies of the children in plastic garbage bags in his SUV for part of that trip, authorities have said.
He told investigators he believed his children planned to kill him and then “chop him up and feed him to the dogs,” according to an arrest warrant revealed in court after authorities blacked out that detail beforehand.
The death penalty announcement was no surprise for Jones, who turns 34 on Dec. 20, since his legal team has said from the start they were preparing for that.
Myers did not reveal any further details of the crime in making his announcement. He read the notice of his intent and gave a copy to Jones’ lawyers, public defenders Boyd Young and Rob Madsen.
Circuit Judge Knox McMahon ordered a psychiatric evaluation of Jones at the request of prosecutors.
“Competency is something that needs to be addressed,” Deputy Solicitor Shawn Graham said. “Our belief is that it will come into play at trial.”
McMahon’s decision came after the judge read what he said was a confidential report indicating Jones made “irrational statements” during confinement in a state prison since his arrest.
Young argued against allowing the examination until his legal team finishes reviewing more than 6,000 pages of investigative reports and other documents.
Until that is done, it’s too soon to say if the defense will raise issues about Jones’ competency to stand trial, Young said.
Young also expressed concern that Jones could inadvertently provide information that prosecutors might use against him at trial, but McMahon said that won’t be allowed.
Few details are known about what happened, what drove Jones and what he told law enforcement. The court has imposed a gag order on all involved with the trial to prevent disclosure of some findings about the killings before a trial.
However, the indictments – one for each child – say Jones beat Nahtahn to death and strangled the other four.
Memories of the youngsters’ deaths remain strong across the 758-square-mile county.
The divorced father, who worked for a computer technology company in Columbia, had custody of the children after a 10-year marriage with his wife, Amber, ended in divorce in October 2013.
Authorities began looking for the children after their mother reported them missing Sept. 3, 2014.
Jones was stopped Sept. 6, 2014, at a traffic safety checkpoint in Raleigh, Miss., on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The site is near where his parents live.
His vehicle contained “a large amount of blood and handwritten notes with directions to kill and mutilate bodies,” according to an arrest warrant. It added that a search of the vehicle revealed “a significant amount of bleach products (aroma) along with blood.” Traces of synthetic marijuana also were found in the vehicle, police said.
The children’s bodies were found three days later on a hillside outside Camden, Ala., after Jones led investigators there.
Shortly after his arrest, Columbia attorney Aimee Zmroczek, hired by Jones’ parents, said his mental condition needed to be evaluated since he had been treated in the past for problems she would not specify.
Jones served a little more than a year in prison in Illinois on charges of car theft, burglary and forgery before his marriage, records show.
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483