South Carolina man found guilty of murdering his five children

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - A South Carolina man was found guilty on Tuesday of murdering his five children after he confessed to killing them at their mobile home in 2014 before driving their decomposing bodies through several states and dumping them in Alabama.

Timothy Jones, a 37-year-old divorced software engineer who had legal custody of his children, pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and did not testify at the jury trial in Lexington, South Carolina.

The jury returned guilty verdicts for five counts of murder.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. In a second phase of the trial, the jury will determine what penalty to impose.

The trial judge had instructed jurors to consider verdicts of guilty, guilty but mentally ill, not guilty by reason of insanity, or not guilty.

Jones was arrested at a traffic safety checkpoint in Mississippi in September 2014 and led police to the children’s bodies, which were wrapped in garbage bags.

In a taped confession played during the trial, Jones told investigators that his middle child, Nahtahn, 6, died accidentally on August 28, 2014, after Jones made him do squats and pushups as a punishment for breaking some electrical outlets. Weeping, Jones told police he then strangled his other four children - Merah, 8; Elias, 7; Gabriel, 2; and Abigail Elaine, 1 - at their mobile home, the State newspaper reported.

Defense lawyers said Jones grew up in a household surrounded by violence and neglect with a mother who was institutionalized with schizophrenia, a sometimes inherited mental illness, and that he had suffered a skull fracture and brain injury in a car wreck.

Court-appointed psychiatrist Dr. Richard Frierson testified that Jones told him a “gremlin voice” had told him to kill the remaining four children. Jones thought they would be better off all together when he went to prison, Frierson said. “He made a conscious decision and choice to kill them. He felt it was morally justified.”

Jones did not appreciate the moral wrongness of his actions, defense lawyer Boyd Young told jurors on Monday.

“His diseased mind believed the children were better off in heaven,” Young said. “Killing someone out of hatred is murder. Killing children out of love is insanity.”

Prosecutor Rick Hubbard rejected that argument, calling Jones a selfish man who abused his children regularly and killed Nahtahn out of rage.

“This man is not schizophrenic. This man knew right from wrong. He chose wrong,” Hubbard said. “After they find the bodies, he’s still talking about his anger.”

Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Berkrot