COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The mother of five children who were killed by their father stunned a South Carolina courtroom 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.
Under cross-examination by prosecutor Suzanne Mayes she added, "I'll respect whatever the jury decides."
Kyzer had been subpoenaed by the defense.
A jury convicted Timothy Jones Jr. of five counts of murder last week for the killings in his Lexington home in August 2014.The same jurors are deciding if he will get the death penalty or life in prison without parole.
Kyzer said while she prays for Jones and personally opposes the death penalty, there have been many moments watching the trial when she wanted to "fry him."
"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 said.
Kyzer first testified last month about a brief phone call just before her children were killed and dissolved into heaving sobs as she read a letter she wrote to her children apologizing for not being there for them after the couple divorced.
On Tuesday, she wept again when recalling her children. But she also sounded adamant and aggravated as she described again how Jones hit her, spit in her face in front of their young daughter and threatened to chop her up and feed her to pigs during their marriage.
And Kyzer, wearing a black dress similar to the one she wore when she first testified, responded to testimony about her over the four weeks of testimony, including that she rarely came to visit her children and she shouldn't have let them live with Jones.
Kyzer said Jones was a good father throughout their marriage and had an $80,000 a year job as a computer engineer. She said although Jones intentionally made it tough for her to visit her kids by not accommodating her work schedule, she only missed two planned visitations and got her high school diploma and a job because she wanted to show she could support her kids.
Kyzer testified she didn't want Jones' family to deal with the pain of losing a son because she lost three of her own in 2014. She said she still has the shirt her 6-year-old son was wearing the last time he saw her and hasn't washed it in almost five years because it still smells like him.
"If they died thinking I didn't want them or I didn't love them, it would kill me," Kyzer said.
Kyzer's testimony came after defense lawyers called a social worker to testify about Jones' chaotic upbringing.
Deborah Grey said Jones' grandmother was raped by her stepfather and gave birth at age 12 to Jones' father.
Jones' mother had schizophrenia and went into a mental institution when Jones was 3. She spent decades there, Grey said.
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, Grey said.
The social worker 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.
Jones' lawyers are trying to show he struggled from undiagnosed mental illness and cracked after his marriage failed.
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 an evil, selfish father who killed Nahtahn in a rage and then the rest of his children because he didn't 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.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP .