The first of several defense witnesses testified Monday in the murder trial of Tieray Jones, the man accused in the disappearance of his 2-year-old stepson, Jahi Turner nearly 16 years ago.
Jones' current wife and stepfather described him to jurors as a kind and gentle father, who never physically or emotionally abused his other children.
Jones' current wife, LaToya Jones, told jurors that she's never seen him hit or spank any of his four biological children.
"It was always calm and relax them down, and then, of course, talk the situation over," LaToya said. "Tieray was not violent and he doesn't yell either."
Earl Lee, Jones' stepfather, offered similar testimony.
He testified that Jones never used violence and didn’t react with rage or even anger when his children misbehaved. Instead he would talk with them about what they did wrong, and explain why they needed to change their behavior.
“And he gave them a reason why,” Lee told the jury. “You know, why you should not do this, and why you should do that. So he had a lot of patience with them."
Their testimony is designed to counter the prosecution’s contention that Jones killed Jahi either in a fit of rage, or by failing to get medical care for the toddler after he suffered a critical injury.
On cross-examination, both witnesses acknowledged they never saw Jones with Jahi, and had no direct knowledge of his relationship or interactions with his stepson.
Both witnesses also denied pointed questions from prosecutor Nicole Rooney, who asked them to confirm reports that Jones tried to manipulate witnesses and hide evidence, after his arrest.
Jones faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted on one count of second-degree murder.
On Friday, Judge Joan Weber dismissed a felony child abuse charge against Jones. Weber told the prosecution team she has long harbored doubts about the felony child abuse count and noted the lack of "substantial physical evidence" to support the charge.
On Thursday, a child abuse expert testified that she was concerned Jahi Turner died as a failure to receive medical care from an injury that could have been accidental or inflicted.
Jones told police that Jahi disappeared on April 25, 2002, from a park in Golden Hills, at 28th and Cedar streets, when he walked to a vending machine to buy the toddler something to drink.
Jones said he returned 15 minutes later and Jahi was gone.
After Jahi's disappearance was reported, a huge search ensued, including a week-long police search of the Miramar Landfill, where authorities took the extreme measure of systematically raking through 5,000 tons of garbage.
Jahi’s body was never found, there are no witnesses to the alleged crime, and no confession by the suspect.
Jones was not charged in connection with the death until 2016.
On Feb. 15, prosecutors acknowledged there is little "direct" evidence that Tieray Jones is guilty, but said there will be strong "circumstantial" evidence to prove he killed his 2-year-old stepson, probably in the family's apartment, and threw his body into a dumpster.
Witnesses previously testified they never saw Jones together with the little boy up to, and on, the day Jahi disappeared.