COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A gas station attendant described a smell so vile she hasn’t forgotten it in almost five years, as she painted a picture to jurors of her interactions with Timothy Jones Jr., the Lexington man accused of killing his five children in 2014.
Lisa Watkins worked at a gas station in Greenville, Alabama and remembers the morning of Sept. 6, 2014, vividly.
“I seen him when he pulled in and sat there for 5 minutes without getting out which initially drew my attention,” Watkins testified. “When he finally got out of the vehicle, he walked inside and there was this smell that came in behind him, I got a whiff of, that was awful, it was awful.”
As Watkins described the early-morning interaction with Jones at an Alabama gas station, jurors looked at surveillance video of Jones wandering around inside the store, eventually purchasing a gallon of water, an energy drink and a carton of cigarettes.
“He came up to the counter and he began to check out and he asked me if I knew of a place outside of town that he could camp at,” she said. “So I pointed him in the right direction to a nearby campground.”
Watkins testified other than the smell, nothing about Jones’ demeanor seemed out of the ordinary. She told prosecutors she has called the police on patrons in the past who appear to be intoxicated or suffering from mental illness, but that was not the case with Jones.
Later that night, two deputies with the Smith County Sheriff’s Department in Mississippi set up a safety traffic checkpoint. Deputy Charles Johnson recalled Jones’ black Cadillac Escalade pulling up to the checkpoint.
He testified when Jones rolled down his window, he could smell marijuana burning as well as what smelled like garbage. Because he detected the smell of drugs, he asked Jones to get out of the car. When he did, he said his eyes appeared glassy and red and Jones’ speech was slurred.
Upon searching the car, he said he found two bags of “spice,” which is commonly known as synthetic marijuana. He also testified to finding a bucket of different kinds of chemicals in the back and said he saw a bleach stain on the floorboard of the backseat.
Upon running the plates of Jones’ car, the deputies realized it was missing out of South Carolina. Johnson testified he called his Undersheriff Marty Peterson to come to the scene.
Deputy Jamie McClellan, also on scene with Johnson, said Peterson asked him to ask Jones how many children he had since the alert from South Carolina reflected the five children missing as well.
“I asked where are your children and he told me he didn’t have any children,” McClellan said. “I asked again moments later and he told me three.”
Jones was eventually arrested on suspicion of DUI and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Jones’ defense team asked Patterson, who took over the investigation upon the discovery the children were not with Jones, about an evaluation taken of him the night of his arrest. Documents shown in court reflected deputies did not document any signs of psychiatric distress the night of his arrest. However, another evaluation days later reflected the potential for psychiatric distress.
In perhaps the most compelling testimony of the day, Patterson reflected on a conversation between Timothy Jones Sr. and his son in custody.
“He asked him, son where are the children? What has happened to the children? Are the children okay? Have you done something to the children? And Tim Jr. reached over to his father and put his hand on his throat and then he took it down.”
Jones’ next-door neighbor Christina Ehlke also testified, as she often babysat the children during the summer. She testified she did not notice anything off about Jones when he came to her house to pick up the children on Aug. 28, the subsequent day of the children’s deaths. When he didn’t drop the kids off the next day, she texted him.
“He said they wouldn’t be there that day, but to expect them the next Tuesday,” she said.
Over the course of the next several days, Ehlke testified she remained in communication with Jones, the only person thus far to be successful in contacting Jones after he and the children went missing.
Then, a 17-minute phone call initiated by Jones changed everything, Ehlke testified.
“He said he had left South Carolina, that he needed a fresh start, he and the kids—and he would not be returning,” she said. “He said he knew he owed me money for babysitting and he had taken everything from the home and I was free to get whatever I needed out of the home to compensate for what he owed me. He mentioned his washer and dryer and his computer, things I guess of value.”
Ehlke also mentioned during her time babysitting the children, DSS visited her home to take pictures of the children. She testified she did not know why they had been contacted.
Testimony will continue Thursday morning at 9 a.m.