Picatinny Army major and wife back on trial, accused of abusing adopted children
By Thomas Zambito
Newark -- The three adopted children were each under the age of three when, federal prosecutors say, U.S. Army Major John Jackson and his wife Carolyn carried out a cruel punishment regimen that went beyond the bounds of parental discipline.
One child was forced to eat an onion as punishment for drinking water from a toilet. Children were force-fed hot sauce or red-hot pepper flakes. And their bones were broken, prosecutors say.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the evidence in this case will show that no matter where you draw that line, the defendants were miles past it," Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Shumofsky told jurors Monday during opening statements in U.S. District Court.
New Jersey federal prosecutors reopened their child endangerment and assault case against the Jacksons Monday, five months after Judge Katharine Hayden declared a mistrial midway through the first trial.
Hayden acted after a federal prosecutor inadvertently told jurors that one of the three children had died - a fact the judge declared off-limits because the Jacksons are not accused of causing the boy's death. The two-year-old died in May 2008 from what a medical examiner concluded were natural causes.
The Jacksons were living at Picatinny Arsenal in Morris County when, prosecutors say, the couple took to beating the three adoptive children while sparing their three biological children. John Jackson joined the Army in 1993 and served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Shumofsky told jurors Monday the children were severely malnourished and suffering from "battered child syndrome" during the years between 2005 and 2010 when they were in the Jacksons' custody.
But Carolyn Jackson's attorney, Rubin Sinins, suggested the children's maladies were in part due to their own biological past. One of the children was exposed to crack cocaine in utero, Sinins said.
He said the pictures prosecutors offered of the Jackson's alleged misdeeds - grim photos of the children's wounds -- were only snapshots in time.
He displayed a photo of one of the two adopted girls, sitting at a sun-dappled table smiling along with the Jacksons.
"How about this photograph?," Sinins said. "Looks like an abused child to me. I don't think so."
Sinins conceded the disciplinary measures Carolyn Jackson employed went beyond what most would consider acceptable discipline.
"I don't agree with my client about a lot of things she did," Sinins said. "I'm not going to sit here and tell you she was the mother of the year."
But, he said, while Carolyn Jackson's methods could have led a child welfare agency to remove them from her custody, they weren't federal crimes.
"If you're a crappy parent, you're not a criminal," Sinins said.
Among those expected to testify against the Jacksons is one of their biological children, Shumofsky said.
At the first trial, the 16-year-old boy told jurors that his mother paddled his younger, adopted brother for being too slow to climb into his chair.
"Foolishness is bound up in the heart of the child," he testified that his parents told him. "The rod of correction will drive it out."