Nov 14, 2:09 PM EST

Judge declares mistrial in base child abuse case

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- A federal judge declared a mistrial Friday in the child abuse case of an Army officer and his wife, a day after a prosecutor mentioned the death of one of their children while questioning a witness.

U.S. District Judge Katharine Hayden had previously ruled that the boy's death could not be introduced during the trial since the defendants, Army Maj. John Jackson and wife Carolyn, weren't charged directly with his death.

In announcing her ruling Friday, Hayden said that even though Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa Jampol's reference during Thursday's questioning to when the boy "was alive" was inadvertent, it was sufficient to prejudice the jury.

The reference "had the effect of denying defendants the fair trial they are guaranteed," Hayden said. The government had requested Hayden continue the trial after giving the jury a special instruction.

Sitting at opposite ends of the defense table, the Jacksons didn't speak during the hearing or afterward, and attorneys for both declined comment after the ruling. A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office said the government "is committed to retrying the case."

The Jacksons have been on trial since mid-October. Jury selection began more than three months ago.

The couple is charged with abusing their three adopted children in 2010 when the family was living at Picatinny Arsenal, a military installation about 35 miles northwest of New York City in Rockaway Township, New Jersey. They face 17 counts including endangerment, assault and conspiracy for allegedly disciplining the children over a span of several years by withholding food and water and physically assaulting them.

The indictment alleged two of the foster children were forced to eat red pepper flakes and drink hot sauce as punishment and two suffered fractured bones from assaults by the Jacksons.

Each of the 17 counts carries a maximum possible prison sentence of 10 years upon conviction.

According to the indictment, the Jacksons had three children of their own and fostered three other children they eventually adopted. The Jacksons weren't charged directly with the death of one adopted child, but were charged with assault and failing to seek prompt medical care.

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