Army major, wife accused of abusing 3 children plead not guilty at arraignment
By Jason Grant
— Army Maj. John E. Jackson and his wife, Carolyn, both pleaded not guilty today in federal court to charges that they abused their foster and adopted children for years through beatings, breaking their bones, failing to get them medical help, depriving them of drinking water and training their biological kids to take part in the mistreatment.
Appearing at an arraignment about one week after U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman announced that both parents were facing 17 counts – including numerous charges of assault and endangering the welfare of a child – the Jacksons sat quietly at a defense table. They did not speak during a 25-minute hearing in Newark before U.S. District Judge Katharine Hayden, during which they waived the reading of the charges against them, said a spokeswoman for Fishman. Their lawyers entered the pleas for them.
After the hearing ended, the couple whispered back and forth. John Jackson, 37, wore full military dress in court, appearing in a crisp dark-blue uniform with gold-and-red stripes woven into the shoulders. As he walked from the courthouse hand in hand with Carolyn Jackson, 35, he donned a military hat.
Neither Jackson would comment to reporters as they left the courthouse.
In a 22-page indictment unsealed last week, the Jacksons are alleged to have conspired from 2005 to 2010 — while living at Picatinny Arsenal in Morris County — to engage in a constant course of neglect and cruelty toward three children they fostered and then adopted, one of whom died in May 2008.
Authorities allege the Jacksons – who now live in Mount Holly – told their three biological children not to report the physical assaults to others, saying the punishments and disciplinary techniques were justified, as they were “training” the adopted children how to behave.
According to reports published on a website called “WorldNetDaily,” the state Department of Children and Families in 2010 took the Jacksons’ five children from them, citing an imminent danger to the children after the youngest, who was then 2 years old, was hospitalized.
Fishman’s office has confirmed the Jacksons’ five children are in the custody of the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency.
Authorities have declined to provide the names, genders and ages of the children, and the indictment does not allege the Jacksons are responsible for the death of the one child.
Today, federal prosecutor Melissa Jampol told Hayden that the state had terminated the parental rights of the Jacksons to three of their former children. She also said that she believed the state was looking into what should happen with all five children, including two biological children.
Jampol added that a guardian represents the rights of the three children who are no longer legal children of the Jacksons – and that a separate guardian represents the rights of the other two.
According to prosecutors and the indictment, after John Jackson was told by a family friend that one of the children had revealed the alleged abuse, he told his wife. Carolyn Jackson then retaliated against that child with multiple beatings with a belt, authorities say.
The Jacksons allegedly assaulted their children with various objects, causing two children to sustain fractured bones, for which the Jacksons failed to seek prompt medical attention, authorities allege in the indictment.
They also withheld proper medical care for their adopted children, withheld sufficient nourishment for two of the children, withheld adequate water from two of the children, and, at times, prohibited them from drinking water altogether, authorities allege.
As another form of punishment, the couple forced two of the children to consume food intended to cause them pain and suffering, variously including red pepper flakes, hot sauce and raw onion, authorities say. They also caused one child to ingest excessive sodium or sodium-laden substances while being deprived of water, leading to a life-threatening illness, authorities also allege.
If convicted, authorities say, the Jacksons each face a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison on each of the 17 counts with which they are charged.
After being detained initially last week after the indictment against them was unsealed, the Jacksons were granted bail last Thursday after a lengthy court hearing. But the federal magistrate judge who freed them also mandated that neither Jackson is allowed to have contact with any of their children. According to statements made by lawyers at the bail hearing, the Jacksons had previously been allowed to visit with two of their biological children.
John Jackson began his career with the Army in 1993. In later years he served in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. While serving in Iraq and Afghanistan between February 2009 and March 2010 as part of the Joint Contracting Command — Iraq/Afghanistan, he received the defense meritorious service medal while working as a contractor.
Defenders of John and Carolyn Jackson have said the parents are kind, practicing Christians and have been unfairly targeted by state child protective services.
A court motion and discovery schedule was also set out in court during today’s hearing. A trial date was slated for July 8 – for now – but because of voluminous discovery expected in the case, Fishman's spokeswoman said it is expected the trial date could be pushed back to a later date.
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