Teen son of Army major and wife testifies against parents for second time
By Thomas Zambito
The 16-year-old son of an Army major and his wife recalled for jurors Tuesday the day he broke down in tears and revealed that his parents were using hot sauce and a raw onion to discipline his three adopted siblings.
The teenager said he was on a weekend trip to his grandparents' house in South Bend, Indiana in 2010 when, after some prodding from his grandfather, he decided to unburden himself of the secret he'd kept for years.
"I felt scared because the next thing I was going to say could get me into a lot of trouble," he testified. "On the other hand I felt like it was my job to tell them the truth...I told the (grandparents) I didn't agree with what was going on in my house."
Army Maj, John Jackson and his wife, Carolyn, are facing federal charges of assault and child endangerment for allegedly abusing their three adopted children between the years 2005 and 2010. During a portion of that time the family was living at Picatinny Arsenal in Morris County.
Federal prosecutors say the Jacksons' harsh treatment of the adopted children led to broken bones as they carried out punishments that went beyond normal parental discipline. The couple's three biological children -- all of whom have been removed from the Jacksons' home -- were spared similar treatment, prosecutors say.
The Jacksons' first trial ended in a mistrial in November after a federal prosecutor mistakenly revealed to jurors that one of the three adopted children had died. The two-year-old died in May 2008 from what a medical examiner determined were natural causes.
U.S. District Court Judge Katharine Hayden had ruled before trial that any mention of the child's death was off-limits since the Jacksons have not been accused of causing the child to die.
On the witness stand Tuesday, the 16-year-old, whose name is being withheld by NJ Advance Media, said his adopted siblings "would get hot sauce poured down their throats or crushed red peppers into the mouth or sometimes would have to eat a raw onion."
This was the second time that the teenager testified before a jury. Throughout, he referred to his parents as his "biological parents" while they sat at the defense table jotting notes onto legal pads.
And, as he did in November 2014, he recalled how his parents pointed to Biblical verses to justify their disciplining of the adopted children for offenses that included drinking water from a toilet.
"Foolishness is bound up in the heart of the child but the rod of correction will drive it out," was one.
"He who spares the rod hates the child but he who loves his child disciplines him accordingly," was another, he testified.
He was removed from his parents' custody in April 2010, a few months after his father returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, he testified.
The two surviving adopted children were also removed from the home.
In opening statements three weeks ago, Carolyn Jackson's attorney, Rubin Sinins, said the adopted children's ailments stemmed in part from their biological past. One child was exposed to crack cocaine in utero, Sinins told jurors.
He suggested federal prosecutors were overreaching by bringing a criminal case against the couple. "If you're a crappy parent, you're not a criminal," Sinins told jurors.