Death penalty trial set for dad charged with killing 5 kids

LEXINGTON, S.C. — A father who police said killed his five young children in their South Carolina home and then drove their bodies around for more than a week is about to stand trial for his life.

Jury selection is set to begin Monday in Lexington County in the death penalty case of Timothy Jones Jr.

Jones is charged with five counts of murder for killing his children, ages 8, 7, 6, 2 and 1, in their Lexington home in August 2014. Indictments said he strangled four of them and beat the other.

Jones then wrapped the bodies in plastic bags, put them in the back of his SUV and drove around the Southeast for a week, logging more than 700 miles (1,125 kilometres) through North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and finally Mississippi where he was arrested, authorities said.

Well into the trip, Jones buried his children on a rural hillside near Camden, Alabama, police said.

When he was arrested at a drunken driving checkpoint in Smith County, Mississippi, an officer smelled a terrible odour and found blood, maggots and children’s clothes in the SUV, authorities said.

Jones’ lawyers have filed court papers saying he plans an insanity defence. Jury selection will likely take most, if not all of this week.

Jones, 37, was a software engineer and was given custody of his children after his marriage started to fall apart.

The computer engineer struggled as a single father, according to records from the Department of Social Services, whose employees visited the home a dozen times in three years.

But Jones also worked to correct the problems as social workers found them. There were trips to Disney World and the beach and a birthday party with cupcakes detailed in those records along with a mark on one of the children and a report they were made to exercise excessively as punishment.

“Dad appears to be overwhelmed as he is unable to maintain the home, but the children appear to be clean, groomed and appropriately dressed,” wrote the case worker, whose name was blacked out, in a report filed two weeks before police said the children were killed.

The trial could take most of May. If jurors find Jones guilty of murder, the same jury will then hear testimony about whether he should be sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty.

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