Prosecutor: Army major, wife abused adopted kids
By KAREN SUDOL
When people met Army Maj. John E. Jackson and his wife, Carolyn, they were impressed by them. The couple “presented well” to the outside world. And they seemed engaged with their six children, three of whom were adopted.
But it was a different story behind closed doors, where the adopted children were malnourished, beaten and burned, a federal prosecutor said Friday during the start of a trial that has received nationwide attention for its horrific allegations of child abuse.
The couple engaged in a systematic pattern of abuse and neglect of their three young adopted children, then lied to health care workers about the origin of their children’s injuries when they sought medical attention for them, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Shumofsky told a jury during opening statements before U.S. District Judge Katharine Hayden in Newark.
The Jacksons, of Mount Holly, face a 17-count indictment that charges them with abusing the adopted children — two girls and a boy — between August 2005 and April 2010, when the children were removed from the home. They are charged in federal court because some of the crimes occurred at the Picatinny Arsenal in Morris County, where they lived from 2007 through 2012. A jury of 18, including six alternates, is hearing the case.
The children were abused on a daily basis for minor infractions such as walking and eating too slowly or putting their fingers in their mouths, Shumofsky said. They were beaten with paddles, sticks and hands, force-fed hot sauce and pepper flakes, and told to eat onions as if they were apples. One child was fed excessive sodium while fluid intake was restricted, causing her to suffer from hypernatremia, a life-threatening condition. The boy, who died in 2008, had to have his finger amputated due to gangrene. His death is being investigated.
The abuse left the children malnourished, with scars, broken bones and burns scattered throughout their bodies, Shumofsky said.
The Jacksons are charged with 13 endangering counts, three assault counts and a single count of conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child. Both face maximum penalties of 10 years in prison if convicted of each of the 17 counts and $250,000 fines.
They no longer have custody of any of their children.
At one point, the couple’s eldest biological child confronted his father, asking him to stop the beatings of his adopted siblings. His father said it was not the boy’s place to question how the other children were disciplined and that the children were being trained. That child, now 16 and who confided in a family friend about the abuse, is expected to take the stand to describe what he witnessed.
Shumofsky also said that while Carolyn Jackson, 34, was the primary disciplinarian, her husband also disciplined and physically abused the children. Both parents determined which methods of punishment would be used, the prosecutor said.
When the two girls were removed from the Jackson home, they gained weight, their wounds healed and they did not suffer any other broken bones, the federal prosecutor said. The jury will not hear about the May 2008 death of the adopted boy; the judge determined it would be prejudicial and confusing to the panelists. But federal prosecutors said in court months ago that a grand jury was investigating whether to charge the couple with the boy’s death. A U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman would not comment on the status of that investigation.
Carolyn Jackson’s lawyer, Rubin Sinins, said that while she |wouldn’t win the “mother of the year” award, she never intended to harm her children.
“A lot of what you hear about their parenting decisions may well be questionable,” said Sinins. “But the evidence will not show that Carolyn and John Jackson conspired to abuse their adopted children. The evidence will not show that they knowingly, intentionally and willfully endangered their children.”
He said the evidence would show that Carolyn Jackson was an overwhelmed mother of a large family with a husband who was often away. And she may have been too proud to ask for help, Sinins said.
“But being wrong and stubborn doesn’t make you a criminal,” he said. “She did not intend to harm, she acted in good faith.”
Sinins also said Carolyn Jackson was constantly running to doctors or hospitals with the three children, who had serious medical problems.
Sinins and Carol Gillen, an assistant federal public defender representing John Jackson, 38, said the couple took in the two girls, whose mother — a relative of Carolyn Jackson’s — could not provide for them. Gillen also told the jury that the medical experts the government planned to call to testify that the children’s injuries were tied to abuse had never treated or even seen them.
As for John Jackson, Gillen said he may not have been the perfect father, husband or soldier but that he tried to lead a principled life and instill values in his children.
“At the end of this case, the government will not be able to prove that they conspired to abuse and neglect their children,” she said. “What they agreed to do is love, care for and provide for their children.”
The trial will resume on Tuesday and is expected to last six to eight weeks.