NEWARK, N.J. — An Army major and his wife 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, a federal prosecutor told a jury at the couple's child abuse trial Monday.
John and Carolyn Jackson also forced some of the children to drink hot sauce or eat hot pepper flakes and weren't exposed until one of their biological children reported the abuse to someone outside the family, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Shumofsky said in his opening statement.
That child, now in his teens, is expected to provide key testimony for the prosecution.
The trial marks the second go-round for the Jacksons, whose previous trial last fall ended in 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 Jacksons, who live in Mount Holly, were stationed at Picatinny Arsenal, a military installation about 40 miles west of New York City, when the abuse occurred between 2005 and 2010, according to a 15-count superseding indictment.
They had three biological children who showed no signs of abuse, Shumofsky said. But they disciplined their three foster children by withholding food and water as punishment and by hitting them with different objects, he added. The treatment left them with bruises and injuries including, for one child, a skull fracture and spinal fracture, and for another, a broken arm.
The children were well under normal weight when they were removed from the Jackson home, Shumofsky said, including one who weighed less at nearly three years old than he did when he joined the family at 11 months old.
One of the girls had scars, marks and infections and had a dangerously high level of salt in her body that doctors said they'd never seen before in a two-year-old, Shumofsky told jurors.
Attorneys representing the Jacksons conceded that though the Jacksons' child-rearing methods may be objectionable to some, they didn't rise to the level of criminality.
"You might think, 'I would never raise a hand to my child,'" said attorney Rubin Sinins, representing Carolyn Jackson. "But that doesn't make it criminal. Because what Carolyn Jackson was doing was acting in good faith in her role as parent."
Jackson would have had to have known that her actions would cause harm to be considered guilty, he added. "If you're a crappy parent, you're not a criminal," he said.
Countering photos shown by Shumofsky that showed the children with visible marks and scars, Sinins showed jurors pictures of the two girls smiling with their parents or friends in pictures taken weeks earlier.
Sinins and David Holman, representing John Jackson, both mentioned in their opening statements that while the government's experts concluded abuse had taken place though they hadn't treated the children, the children's treating doctors did not reach that conclusion.