NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A convicted former Army major and his wife who prosecutors said routinely beat their young foster children and denied them food and water will be sentenced for a third time, after a federal appeals court ruled the trial judge again failed to adequately address the seriousness of their crimes.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling last month sent the case back to the same federal judge in New Jersey who sentenced John and Carolyn Jackson twice previously, in 2015 and 2018. Both have now been struck down at the appellate level.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers have through mid-November to file pre-sentencing briefs, under an order issued this week by U.S. District Judge Katharine Hayden.
The 2015 trial produced testimony that the Jacksons' three foster children suffered broken bones and were severely underweight and had other health problems when they were removed from the home in 2010. The couple's biological son testified the couple forced the children to eat hot pepper flakes and drink hot sauce as punishment.
One of the children suffered injuries including a fractured skull, a broken arm and a fractured spine.
A fourth foster child in their care died, but the Jacksons weren’t charged with his death. At trial, the Jacksons' lawyers argued that the children had pre-existing health problems, and said the couple's child-rearing methods were unconventional but not criminal.
John Jackson received probation and Carolyn Jackson was sentenced to two years at the first sentencing, stunning prosecutors who had sought prison terms of 15 years or longer. At the second sentencing, Hayden extended John Jackson’s sentence to three years of probation and Carolyn Jackson’s to more than three years. Both received credit for time served.
Sentencing was complicated by the fact that the trial took place in federal court since the Jacksons lived at Picatinny Arsenal, a New Jersey military facility, during the time of the alleged abuse. Because child endangerment is not a federal crime, state endangerment charges were merged into the federal indictment to go along with a conspiracy count and two assault counts.
The Jacksons were acquitted of the assault counts, but prosecutors argued Hayden should sentence them under federal assault guidelines anyway because the nature of the child endangerment counts made them “sufficiently analogous” to assault.
Lawyers for the couple argued prosecutors didn't connect specific acts by the Jacksons to injuries the children suffered.
The appeals court disagreed, writing last month that Hayden's decision to give more weight to expert testimony supporting the Jacksons “turned the preponderance of the evidence standard on its head."
“On review, we have concluded that the government adequately proved that several of the children’s serious injuries were in fact caused by the Jacksons,” the court wrote.
The U.S. attorney's office, which prosecuted the case, declined comment Tuesday, as did an attorney representing Carolyn Jackson. A message was left with an attorney representing John Jackson.