- Associated Press - Friday, October 10, 2014

LEXINGTON, S.C. (AP) - Lexington County deputies didn’t violate a gag order when they released a criminal domestic violence incident report against a man charged with killing his five children, a judge ruled Friday.

Local media outlets reported that attorneys for Timothy Ray Jones Jr. asked for the hearing because a few weeks ago deputies released a police report from May 2012 where Jones’ wife called deputies to report he threatened to snap her neck, head-butted her and spit in her face.

Jones was not arrested. The couple were separated at the time of the report and went on to have another child before they divorced.

Media outlets had requested the report through a Freedom of Information Act request prior to the gag order being issued. Circuit Judge Thomas Russo agreed with Jones’ attorneys that pretrial statements by prosecutors, law enforcement officials and potential witnesses be kept from the public and the slain children’s autopsy reports, 911 calls and Jones’ own medical information stay secret to ensure he can have a fair trial in Lexington County.

Defense attorneys wanted Russo to punish prosecutors by ruling they couldn’t seek the death penalty against Jones. They also wanted the judge to fine the sheriff’s office for releasing the report.

Russo ruled the release wasn’t a willful violation of the gag order, but he may tighten the wording of the order to keep some additional documents away from the public.

Jones was not in the courtroom for the hearing.

Jones, 32, is charged with five counts of murder. Authorities said he killed his five children in their Lexington home in late August and drove around with their bodies in trash bags in his SUV for nine days before dumping them in a field in rural Alabama. He was arrested in Mississippi after a deputy said he smelled the stench of death coming from the SUV at a traffic checkpoint.

Defense attorneys have suggested Jones suffered from mental problems. An arrest warrant said Jones feared his children, ages 1 to 8, were going to kill him, chop him up and feed him to dogs.

Prosecutors have not decided if they will seek the death penalty.

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