Ex-military couple hit with longer prison time in 4th sentencing in child abuse case

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A former U.S. Army major and his wife accused of routinely beating their young foster children and denying them food and water as punishment have been sentenced for a fourth time.

Carolyn Jackson was ordered Monday to serve nearly 12 years in prison, while her husband, John, was sentenced to 9 years. The terms were imposed by U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton, who was assigned to the case in April after a federal appeals court found U.S. District Judge Katharine Hayden — who had handled the previous three sentencings — failed to follow its directions to consider the children’s multiple injuries “holistically and in the context of the jury’s findings of guilt” in determining causation.

Federal prosecutors had appealed each of the sentences imposed by Hayden, arguing they were too lenient. Noting the repeated sentencings, the appellate panel also concluded that Hayden — who presided over the Jacksons’ 2015 trial — would have “substantial difficulty in putting out of her mind her previously expressed views of the evidence,” so they ordered that the matter be reassigned to another jurist.

The last sentencing in the case occurred in October 2021. Carolyn Jackson, who had already served a 40-month prison term in two stretches, was sentenced to time served and given an additional year of supervised release. John Jackson, who had finished a probationary term, was sentenced to 18 months’ home confinement.

At the time, Hayden concluded that imposing more prison time “is more punishment than is necessary.” Prosecutors, who had recommended a sentencing range of between nine and 11 years, called the sentences insufficient and accused Hayden of not following guidelines set by the appeals court.

In 2015, the U.S. attorney’s office had sought prison sentences of 15 years or more after the couple was convicted on multiple counts of child endangerment. After the first sentencing was struck down, Hayden extended their sentences in 2018, but that was rejected on appeal as well.

Sentencing in the case has been 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 in question. 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 federal assault counts.

The Jacksons were acquitted of the assault counts, but prosecutors argued Hayden should sentence them under assault guidelines anyway because the nature of the child endangerment counts made them “sufficiently analogous” to assault. Defense attorneys argued prosecutors didn’t connect specific acts by the Jacksons to injuries the children suffered.

The Jacksons’ trial produced testimony that their three foster children suffered broken bones, 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.

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 preexisting health problems, and said the couple’s child-rearing methods may have been unconventional but weren’t criminal.

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