The mother of five children who were killed by their father stunned a South Carolina courtroom on Tuesday by asking the jury to spare her ex-husband’s life.
“He did not show my children any mercy by any means. But my kids loved him and if I’m speaking on behalf of my kids and not myself, that’s what I have to say,” Amber Kyzer said on the witness stand.
But she clearly felt torn.
“I hear what my kids went through and what they endured. And as a mother, if I could personally rip his face off I would. That’s the mom in me. That’s the mama bear.”
Kyzer was called by the defense. Prosecutor Suzanne Mayes asked on cross-examination if sparing Jones’ life was just her personal opinion.
“Right. That’s why we have the jury,” Kyzer said.
Kyzer’s testimony came after defense lawyers for Timothy Jones Jr. called a social worker to testify about his chaotic upbringing, from how his father was born to a 12-year-old rape victim to how his mother said she was locked in a closet during a voodoo ritual.
Permission for social worker Deborah Grey’s testimony during the sentencing phase of Jones’ trial was fiercely disputed. Prosecutors earlier persuaded the judge not to let her testify before a jury convicted Jones of five counts of murder for the killings in his Lexington home in August 2014.
The same jury must decide if Jones gets the death penalty or life without parole.
Grey testified Tuesday only after hours of argument over what she could and could not say. During the sentencing phase, the defense has wider latitude to try to show what might have led to the crime.
Grey detailed three generations of rapes, molestation by family members, gunshots, stabbings, drug deals, voodoo rituals, prostitution, frequent screaming fights and cursing at children and how Jones’ mother dipped him in ice water baths and gave him laxatives to try to make him behave.
Grey started with Jones’ grandmother, who was raped by her stepfather and gave birth at age 12 to Jones’ father.
The chaos extended to Jones’ parents. His mother had schizophrenia and went into a mental institution when Jones was 3. She spent decades there.
Her psychiatric records showed she told doctors her father molested her and locked her in a closet with a dead chicken dripping blood on her as part of a voodoo ritual, Gray said.
Gray began to testify about a stillborn infant birthed by Jones’ mother that the family said appeared to be part of a self-induced abortion attempt. But Circuit Judge Eugene Griffith stopped her before she could give details.
Griffith frequently told Grey “move along” or “keep moving” when she tried to go into details about Jones’ family. Tuesday marked the fourth week of testimony in Jones’ trial.
Jones’ lawyers are trying to show he struggled from undiagnosed mental illness and cracked when he became a single father of five after his marriage failed. His wife left him for a teenager who lived next door after she tired of Jones using religion to control what she wore and when she could leave their home.
Jones said in a confession he felt his 6-year-old Nahtahn was trying to attack him by conspiring with his ex-wife, and he exercised the boy until he collapsed and died after he broke an electrical outlet.
Several hours later, Jones said he decided to kill the other children, strangling 8-year-old Merah and 7-year-old Elias with his hands and using a belt to choke 2-year-old Gabriel and 1-year-old Abigail because his hands were too big.
Prosecutors said Jones was instead an evil, selfish father who killed Nahtahn in a rage and then the rest of his children because he did not want his ex-wife to have them.
Both sides have blamed alcohol and drug use for the killings. Prosecutors said Jones used synthetic marijuana instead of caring for his kids. Defense lawyers said Jones used drugs to try and treat his undiagnosed schizophrenia , but it made the mental condition worse.
Jones was only doing what he saw his father and grandmother and their families do all their lives — self-medicate to deal with what seemed like an endless barrage of sadness and anger, Grey testified.
“They have been through a lot. But there’s a lot of love and a lot of caring between these folks,” Grey said.
The trial is being livestreamed from the Lexington County courthouse.
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