A former Army major and his wife convicted of abusing their young foster children over several years are due back in federal court on Wednesday for a resentencing after their original sentence was thrown out for being too lenient.
John and Carolyn Jackson lived at the Army’s Picatinny Arsenal facility when they were charged in 2013. After their first trial ended in a mistrial, they were convicted on multiple counts of child endangerment in 2015. A judge sentenced John Jackson to probation and Carolyn Jackson to two years in prison.
Prosecutors had sought sentences of 15 to 19 years. For the resentencing, both sides are seeking sentences similar to the ones they sought in 2015.
At trial, prosecutors presented evidence that the Jacksons regularly beat the children and denied them food, water and medical care. Their biological son testified the couple forced the children to eat hot pepper flakes and drink hot sauce as punishment.
The children suffered broken bones and were severely underweight and had other health problems when they were removed from the home in 2010.
In an unusual ruling last year, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the sentences for being “substantively unreasonable” given the seriousness of the crimes. The court also concluded U.S. District Judge Katharine Hayden did not apply federal sentencing guidelines correctly. Hayden will conduct Wednesday’s resentencing in Newark.
“It’s very, very rare for a circuit court to go into the depth that they did here on the issues that existed,” said former federal prosecutor Michael Weinstein, a white-collar defense attorney for New Jersey-based Cole Schotz. “This is a unique case.”
In a pre-sentencing memo filed last week, John Jackson’s attorney wrote that his client had gone from making $120,000 a year to stocking shelves at a dollar store, mowing lawns and working at a call center since his conviction.
Since the Jacksons lived at an Army facility, they were tried in federal court. 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.
Though the Jacksons were acquitted of the assault counts, prosecutors argued Hayden should sentence them under federal assault guidelines because the nature of the endangerment counts made them “sufficiently analogous” to assault.
Lawyers for the couple argued Hayden was correct the first time because prosecutors did not connect specific acts by the Jacksons to injuries the children suffered, and because of the “poor fit between the guidelines and the circumstances of this case.”