Judge weighs mistrial in child abuse trial of U.S. Army major and wife
By Thomas Zambito
Newark - A federal judge cut off testimony in the child abuse trial of Army Major John Jackson and his wife and sent jurors home today after a prosecutor slipped and suggested that one of the couple’s three adopted children had died.
Defense attorneys for the Jacksons immediately demanded a mistrial out of earshot of jurors who, because of a pre-trial ruling, were not supposed to learn of the youngster’s death in 2008 before he’d turned three.
U.S. District Court Judge Katharine Hayden said she will rule Friday morning on whether to declare a mistrial several weeks into the government’s case against John and Carolyn Jackson.
The Jacksons are facing child endangerment and assault charges for abusing and neglecting three of their adopted children through harsh discipline that included feeding them red hot pepper flakes and pouring hot sauce into their mouths.
The couple was living at Picatinny Arsenal in Morris County with their three biological children and three adopted children when some of the abuse is alleged to have occurred. They had previously lived in Oklahoma.
One of the three adopted children – a boy – died in May 2008 from what a medical examiner determined was natural causes.
Before the start of the trial, defense attorneys successfully argued that any mention of the boy’s death would prejudice jurors against the Jacksons.
This morning, during questioning of the Jackson’s 16-year-old son, a key witness against his parents, Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa Jampol phrased a question by asking whether he recalled an event that occurred when his adopted brother “was alive.”
Rubin Sinins, the attorney for Carolyn Jackson, argued that no instruction telling jurors to ignore the comment would override the damage that was done.
“This is a tainted jury,” Sinins told Hayden.
Sinins said he would have a hard time looking jurors in the eye since they would be wondering why he hadn’t addressed the child’s death in his opening statements.
“This jury, knowing that I didn’t tell them this, I look like a sleaze,” Sinins said.
Federal prosecutors said the issue could be resolved with an order from the judge asking the jury not to consider the child’s death in its deliberations. They said the comment was unintentional.
“This is irrelevant,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Shumofsky. “The government fails to see what has changed.”
On Wednesday, the 16-year-old boy, whose name is being withheld by NJ Advance Media, told jurors his mother justified the discipline she meted out to his adopted siblings by pointing to the Book of Proverbs.
"Foolishness is bound up in the heart of the child,” his mother told him. “The rod of correction will drive it out.”
He said his mother took to using a wooden paddle or a ruler with the words “The Golden Rule” emblazoned in black letters, to “swat” his adopted siblings on the backside if they failed to get into their car seat quickly enough.