Teenage son will testify against U.S. Army major and wife accused of abusing adopted children
By Thomas Zambito
Newark - The teenage son of an Army major and his wife will tell jurors how his parents punished his three adopted siblings with vicious beatings they justified by pointing to the Bible, a federal prosecutor said today.
During opening statements in the child endangerment trial for U.S. Army Major John Jackson and his wife, Carolyn, 34, an assistant U.S. Attorney revealed for the first time the key witness against them will be their 16-year-old biological son.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Shumofsky said the teenager confronted his mother after witnessing her striking the adopted children with belts, sticks, spatulas and paddles for offenses like walking too slowly or getting in a car seat too slowly.
“You spare the rod, you spoil the child,” his mother told him, Shumofsky said. “He was told you can’t argue with the Bible.”
The Jacksons are facing federal charges of child endangerment and assault for abusing their three adopted children between the years 2005 and 2010 while John Jackson, 38, was stationed at Picatinny Arsenal in Morris County.
Prosecutors say the children -- each under the age of three at the time -- were starved, force-fed hot pepper flakes and hot sauce and had their arms broken.
One of the children died in May 2008. However, jurors will not be told of the child’s death. No charges have been filed in connection with the death.
In a pre-trial ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Katharine Hayden granted a defense request that jurors not be told that he had died.
The Jacksons were arrested in April 2013. Their parental rights to one of their three biological children and the remaining two adopted children – now ages 8 and 6 – were terminated.
Carolyn Jackson’s lawyer, Rubin Sinins, conceded that the Jacksons may have made “questionable choices” as parents but did not conspire to hurt their children.
“Carolyn Jackson was an overwhelmed mother in a military family, which has its own stresses, with a large number of kids,” Sinins said. “You are not going to hear us say that she should receive a mother of the year award.”
He accused prosecutors of overreaching by pursuing a criminal case against the parents. “The Jackson kids were removed over four years ago,” Sinins said. “Enough is enough.”
Prosecutors say the children were malnourished and severely dehydrated, with abnormally high levels of salt in their system, when doctors saw them in 2010.
Shumofsky said the Jacksons lied to doctors and social services workers who discovered bruises and burns on the children’s bodies and appeared, at least outwardly, to be a model family.
The Jacksons both hold degrees from Purdue University in Indiana, he said.
“Although they appeared to be a picturesque military family the evidence in this case will show that is far from the truth," Shumofsky said.
He said the couple’s 16-year-old son was 12 when he told his grandfather about the beatings.
When his mother found out, she confronted him, the prosecutor said. “She told him don’t you ever discuss what’s going on this the house ever again,” Shumofsky said.
The Jacksons each face a maximum sentence of at least 10 years in prison. The trial is expected to last two months.