NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A former military couple was convicted Wednesday on multiple counts of abusing their three young foster children in ways that their biological son said included forcing them to drink hot sauce or eat red pepper flakes as punishment.
A federal jury in Newark returned the verdicts after deliberating for about five days. The trial began in mid-April.
John Jackson was convicted on 10 of the 13 counts he faced, while his wife, Carolyn, was found guilty on 12 of 13 counts. Both were convicted on the top count, conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child, and on multiple counts of child endangerment. Two of the original 15 counts were dismissed after the prosecution rested its case.
The Jacksons will remain free on bail until their sentencing, scheduled for October.
The trial was the second for the Jacksons. Last fall, a judge declared a mistrial when a prosecutor inadvertently referred to the fact that one of the children had died. The judge had previously ruled that the boy’s death could not be introduced during the trial since the defendants were not charged directly with his death.
The defendants and their attorneys left court Wednesday without commenting. U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman called the case “a tragedy” and said he was gratified that the jury agreed that “what John Jackson and Carolyn Jackson did was not just bad parenting, it was criminal. What those children had to endure was criminal.”
John Jackson was an Army major at Picatinny Arsenal in northwestern New Jersey when prosecutors say the crimes occurred. The couple now lives in Burlington County. John Jackson was administratively separated from the Army this April, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
Prosecutors alleged that the foster children suffered injuries including a broken arm and fractured spine and were severely underweight when they were removed from the family home in 2010.
During the trial, a teenage biological son of the couple — who wasn’t one of the abuse victims — testified that his parents used Bible passages to justify hitting the toddlers with a paddle, stick and other implements. He said they also forced some of the children to drink hot sauce or eat hot pepper flakes.
In opening statements in April, prosecutors said the Jacksons engaged in “a regimen of abuse and neglect” with their three young foster children over a period of years that left the toddlers with broken bones and numerous other health problems.
Defense attorneys for the Jacksons argued during the trial that although the Jacksons’ child-rearing methods might have been objectionable to some, they didn’t rise to the level of criminality. Fishman disagreed.
“We know that being a parent is hard,” he said. “But in our hearts and in our heads we all should know that there are lines we cannot cross. What the Jacksons did to those kids — withholding food and water, breaking bones — is beyond the pale of what responsible parents can and should do.”