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The life of T.J. Jones was over long before his execution
Austin American-Statesman, August 14, 2002
T. J. Jones welcomed his execution. He refused to contest it or file appeals for clemency, though he had good cause.
T.J. was 17 when he shot and killed Willard Davis of Longview. Texas does not spare children the death penalty. But there were other issues T.J., 25, might have pursued. His adult body harbored an adolescent.
The high school drop out loved to play with toy cars, trucks and airplanes and to watch cartoons. T.J. had an IQ (78) that put him near -- if not within -- parameters of mental retardation.
"This is a boy that may look 17, but on the inside, psychologically, he is probably more like a 10 or 12-year-old," said clinical psychologist Craig Lee Moore in testimony at T.J.'s 1994 trial.
"We have a very poorly socialized immature adolescent -- a boy who is mostly puzzled by how the world works, who bluffs his way through." Neither T.J.'s status as a minor nor his possible mental retardation would prevent his execution last week. A predominantly white jury sentenced the African American youngster to death for carjacking and killing Davis, who was white.
While 22 states permit the execution of juvenile offenders, few actually carry them out. Texas does so with hardly a 2nd thought. It does discriminate in applying the death penalty to minors. Like T.J., those sentenced to death tend to be poor, undereducated and black or Latino.
Juveniles are more likely to be sentenced to death if their victims are white.
Long before the legal system snared T.J., he was on a pathway to hell. It is the kind of hell too many African American youths are living because too many parents are failing.
So eager was T.J. to escape his pain that he refused to fight his execution. He embraced it.
He smiled at his mom as he was strapped to a gurney in Texas' death chamber. As lethal fluids flowed through his bloodstream, he apologized to Geraldine Davis, the wife of the man he shot and killed 8 years ago.
It was an unusual display for a young man who had rarely -- if ever -- shown emotion, according to court records.
As a boy, T.J. didn't cry when his mom spanked him. He didn't show grief at his grandmother's funeral several years ago even though Mamie Jackson had been the closest and most caring adult in his life. And at his trial, T.J. didn't appear remorseful over Davis' killing.
His mental slowness dulled his ability to demonstrate emotion. But T.J. was in pain. Deep pain.
T.J. had no memory of his dad, who abandoned him months after he was born.
Thaddeus Roy Jones beat his wife, even while she was pregnant with T.J. Pamela Jones said he once "whipped (her) with an extension cord and knocked (me) down."
Later, an alcoholic boyfriend continued the abuse. During those episodes, T.J. sought refuge.
"He would kind of hum and shake . . . and he would rock," Pamela Jones said.
She never reached for her boy, never pulled him close as he shook and hummed. He was left alone to rationalize his fears and the violence unfolding around him.
T.J. was a loner who mostly stayed at home. His mom worked 2 jobs, spending little time with her only child. The family moved often, and he repeated 4th grade. In the 9th grade, he dropped out. At 17, T.J. still was rocking himself to sleep.
Moore called that a "soft neurological sign," meaning that children with poor prenatal care or an inherited tendency have mild neurological deficits at birth.
At 14, T.J. began drinking alcohol and ultimately graduated to "Whack" -- marijuana laced with embalming fluid. Moore said T.J. used those substances to calm his "psychic pain."
Whack was the perfect drug for T.J. A quick, intense high. A habit that is not terribly expensive and not easily detected. Whack has side effects, including brain damage. T.J. liked it because of its hallucinogenic effects.
He preferred the world according to Whack.
His disturbed childhood and mental deficits steered T.J. down the wrong path.
There was no father to lead him the right way. No adult to help with homework. No mother's touch of tenderness. Even when T.J. took an interest in school gymnastics it was beyond his reach. Pamela Jones couldn't afford the fee.
T.J. found affection and belonging with local punks. He shacked up with them and a girlfriend at the "Dawg House," on Edgefield Street in Longview. That is where he got the .357 that he used to shoot Davis.
And it is where T.J.'s life really ended.
Moore said that T.J. could have been rescued if someone had intervened -- when T.J. broke into his middle school, when he showed difficulty with schoolwork, when he continued playing with toys as a teenager or when he didn't cry during spankings.
It's true the criminal justice system executed T.J. But a breakdown in the black family and community was the real killer. T. J. Jones last statement:
I would like to say to the family, I regret the pain I've put you through and I hope you can get over it someday. Mom and Dad, I love you. Take care. I'm ready.
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