NEWARK, N.J. — A federal judge Tuesday sentenced a former Army major to probation and his wife to two years in a New Jersey child abuse case in which they were convicted on multiple counts of abusing their three foster children.
The sentences amounted to a rebuke of the prosecution, which had sought 15½ to 19½ years for John and Carolyn Jackson.
The Jacksons were convicted in July on multiple counts of child endangerment. Prosecutors presented evidence the couple's three foster children, all toddlers, were left with broken bones and other health problems. One died, although the Jacksons weren't charged with his death.
U.S. District Judge Katharine Hayden cited Army Maj. John Jackson's military record and the fact he didn't participate directly in the abuse. She agreed that Carolyn Jackson endangered the children's welfare.
The couple's biological son told the judge before sentencing that his parents should get the maximum sentence for abusing his younger foster siblings. His parents deserved to "suffer just as much" as their children did, he told Hayden.
He testified during the trial that his siblings were made to eat red pepper flakes and drink hot sauce as punishment. On Tuesday, he described watching the toddlers suffer and said the effects of the abuse "will last the rest of our lives." It was his disclosure to a family friend that ultimately led to his parents' arrest.
Prosecutors presented testimony at the trial that the Jacksons' abuse over a few years left the toddlers with broken bones and other health problems. The abuse was directed at the couple's three foster children and not at their three biological children, the government contended.
Prosecutors said the foster children suffered injuries that included a broken arm and fractured spine, and were severely underweight when they were removed from the family home in 2010.
John Jackson was an Army major at Picatinny Arsenal in northwestern New Jersey when the abuse occurred. He was administratively separated from the Army in April, according to the U.S. attorney's office.
Defense attorneys argued during the trial that the Jacksons' child-rearing methods might have been objectionable but they didn't constitute crimes, and that the foster children had pre-existing health problems.
The Jacksons' first trial in 2014 ended when the judge declared a mistrial after a prosecutor, while questioning a witness, 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.