COLUMBIA — After hearing stories about his girlfriend's involvement in a murder, Keith Jones realized he needed to break things off.
Jones, 36, testified Thursday morning in Tausha L. Fields' murder trial. Fields is charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action for the Aug. 24, 2004 killing of Mitchell W. Kemp, one of her former husbands.
The prosecution and the defense agree that Fields brought Kemp to the property she shared with husband Gregory W. Morton, Morton shot Kemp and Fields helped bury the body. But the sides disagree whether her actions were voluntary or whether the killing was her idea.
Jones, who dated and lived with Fields in 2006 and 2007, was the prosecution's 16th witness.
He said he met Fields in early 2006, when she was employed as a secretary at his father's business in Alabama. Morton, who was married to Fields at the time, had left Alabama to look for work in other states.
Jones said Fields introduced herself, and her young daughter, Lexie, as "Mortons." She was still married, he said, but told him she was in the process of getting divorced.
Jones and Fields began a relationship, and Jones soon moved in while Morton was away. Jones said Fields began alluding to details of a sordid past early in the relationship; Jones said she spoke regularly about her sexual abuse by her father.
Jones said Fields told him that she and Morton had killed a man in Missouri after the man, Kemp, raped her and her daughter. Jones said Fields didn't tell him the man's name or the true nature of her relationship with him.
Her stories were "all like, very dramatic," Jones said. "Some of them were, you know, sort of far-fetched, but at that time, I didn't have any reason not to believe it."
Jones said he's not sure why he didn't report the crime when he first heard Fields' story. He didn't speak up until February 2008, when he was contacted by the Jackson County (Fla.) Sheriff's Department and asked to answer questions about Fields.
"It was kind of a piece of information I didn't want to know," Jones said of the killing. "I figured it was something I'd take to my grave with me, and let God take care of them."
Jones said he met Morton several times during his relationship with Fields; he testified that there was no animosity between the men and he didn't feel threatened by Morton, even though he was sleeping with Morton's wife and living in Morton's house.
Fields and Jones separated late in the summer of 2006.
Jones told attorneys during Thursday's testimony that after the break-up, he met with Morton when Morton called and asked to meet at a Foley, Ala., convenience store. At the meeting, Jones said Morton confirmed the murder and asked Jones what details Fields had given him.
"He told me to 'do yourself a favor and get away from her,'" Jones said.
Even after Morton's warning, Jones said he and Fields got back together and moved to Marianna, Fla. in early 2007. The relationship fell apart again, and Jones left her after two months.
Fields' attorney, public defender Paul Hood, questioned Jones about the quality of his memory.
"Is it fair to say that sometimes you have a better memory of your impression of a situation, your emotional reaction, than the exact details?" Hood said.
"Sure," Jones said, but added that the vividness of Fields' story of the murder helped him to remember the exact details in that case.
"Things like that, something like that drastic, I mean, it sticks in your mind," Jones said. "She told me that when Greg shot him, Mitch was on the ground, he was blowing blood bubbles, she stood over him and spit on his face."
Hood also questioned Jones' history of arrests and drug use.
While her relationship with Jones was coming to an end in 2007, Jones said Fields began seeing another man, Rodney Dewayne Barrentine.
Jones said he and Barrentine met through Fields in Florida, but that their contact was limited before late 2007.
On Nov. 19, 2007, Barrentine drove a panicky Jones to the county hospital; Jones said he had a bad reaction to some recent methamphetamine usage. After Jones was discharged, he said, Barrentine questioned him extensively about some of the strange things he was hearing from Fields, now his girlfriend.
Jones said he didn't remember talking to Barrentine specifically about Morton, but said he told Barrentine about the murder and shared Morton's warning to stay away from Fields.
Before Jones' testimony, jurors also heard from Melissa Larew, mother of Morton's daughter, Megan. She was questioned about Megan Morton's stay with Gregory Morton and Fields in the summer of 2004. She was also asked about various accusations Fields made about the then-10-year-old Megan.
Megan Morton, now 16, testified Wednesday via a recorded video deposition.
After a break in the proceedings Thursday afternoon, Barrentine testified for the prosecution. Kemp's sister-in-law, Mischelle Kemp, also testified.
The trial is expected to last until next week.