NEWARK, N.J. — The teenage son of a military couple charged with abusing their three foster children told a jury Tuesday that his parents used Bible passages to justify hitting the toddlers with a paddle, stick and other implements.
The "rod of correction" was one form of discipline meted out by Army Maj. John Jackson and wife Carolyn, John Jackson Jr. testified under direct questioning in U.S. District Court. The couple also forced the children, all of whom were under the age of 5, to drink hot sauce or eat hot pepper flakes as punishment, he said.
"With respect to the Bible, my parents believed that children needed to be trained in a certain way in order to behave," he said. One passage he said they cited: "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of the child, but the rod of correction will drive it out."
The trial is the second for the Jacksons. The first ended in a mistrial last fall 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.
A 15-count superseding indictment charges them with conspiracy, child endangerment and assault.
Prosecutors contend the Jacksons' three biological children — including John Jr., now 17 and living with a foster family — showed no signs of abuse. But they allege the three foster children suffered bruises and injuries including, for one child, a skull fracture and spinal fracture and, for another child, a broken arm. They were severely underweight when they were removed from the Jackson home in 2010, the government said in its opening statement.
The Jacksons deny the charges, and their attorneys argued in their opening statements that while the couple's parenting methods may have been objectionable, they weren't illegal, and that the foster children had health problems when they joined the Jackson family.
Wearing a plaid shirt and jeans and avoiding looking at the defense table where his parents sat, John Jackson Jr. described telling a relative about the discipline of the foster children and saying that he "didn't like what was going on."
"They would get hot sauce poured down their throat or crushed red pepper or sometimes have to eat a raw onion," he told Assistant U.S. Attorney Melissa Jampol.
One of the implements used to hit the children was a 12-inch-long decorative stick that was a memento of his father's military career, he testified.
The Jacksons were living at Picatinny Arsenal in northwestern New Jersey when prosecutors say the abuse occurred from 2006 to 2010.