Jurors in South Carolina report that they are experiencing profound psychological effects from their exposure to graphically violent images, testimony, and argument during the death-penalty trial of Tim Jones, Jr. (pictured). Three months after the June 13, 2019 conclusion of the penalty phase of a trial in which jurors sentenced Jones to death for killing his five young children, nine of the 18 Lexington County jurors and alternates from the case agreed to speak with the local newspaper, The State, about the case. The evidence, the newspaper said, has left them shaken and haunted, and is having a continuing impact on their lives.

Throughout the 21-day trial, jurors heard graphic testimony about how Jones killed his five children, drove around with their bodies in black garbage bags for 9 days, and eventually dumped their remains in the rural Alabama woods. News reports reflect that the trial was halted “almost every day” as jurors required time to process the evidence about the crime.

“I think about it every day,” said one woman who served as an alternate juror. “Many times during the trial, I went in the jurors’ bathroom and just wailed – cried my eyes out.” Another alternate juror — a military veteran — said that the trial dredged up memories of mass war crime graves in Bosnia. “I smelled death in Bosnia, and since then, I’ve had nightmares about it,” she said. The trial “brought it back like it was yesterday.” Another juror said that “[t]here wasn’t a day when I didn’t drive home and say to myself, ‘I cannot believe I’m in the middle of this.’ It was every day.”

A psychology professor at Wofford College, Dawn McQuiston, explained to The State that jurors can experience mental health issues after exposure to gruesome testimony. This “secondary trauma,” McQuiston said, produces symptoms such as “sudden crying, nightmares, anxiety and depression” comparable to the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. People who have experienced secondary trauma, she said, often need psychological counseling in its aftermath. “The people typically selected for jurors — they’ve never seen or heard such graphic details before. You can only imagine the shock to their system,” said McQuiston.

The jurors’ experiences highlight one of the underappreciated consequences of death penalty trials. Jones had repeatedly offered to plead guilty in exchange for multiple life-without-parole sentences, and jurors would have been spared the long-term trauma from their service if the plea offer had been accepted. However, local prosecutors turned down the offer and proceeded with the trial. “If this wasn’t the case for the death penalty, we don’t need a death penalty,” 11th Circuit Solicitor Rick Hubbard, who prosecuted the case, told The State. “For me, I could not live with a decision not to seek the death penalty.”

The capital trial also created a range of other hardships for the jurors. “There were people on the jury living paycheck to paycheck. Fifteen dollars a day [the juror’s daily stipend] doesn’t go very far. Some employers weren’t paying them,” one juror explained to The State. “There were single parents and young men with families – it was a hardship.” Another juror had to skip medical treatments to attend the trial. Others had to begin working on the weekends.

Still, jurors thought Jones deserved death. ““It wasn’t hard to do the right thing with Tim Jones. He wasn’t crazy. He was evil,” one juror said. Another juror, who wasn’t sure she would be able to cast a vote for death, said, “I did the right thing. Those children had no voice but us.”

The capital trial also had an adverse impact on the victims’ family. Jones’ ex-wife, the mother of the murdered children, testified against sentencing Jones to death. “He did not show my children mercy by any means. But my kids loved him and if I’m speaking on behalf of my kids and not myself,” she said, they would not have wanted their father to die. Jones’s father, stepmother, sister, and two brothers all also pleaded with jurors to save Jones’s life. A 2012 study published in the Marquette Law Review found that family members in homicide proceedings in which the death penalty was unavailable were physically, psychologically, and behaviorally more healthy and expressed greater satisfaction with the legal system than family members in death-penalty cases.