NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The U.S. attorney's office filed an appeal of what it called the "unreasonably lenient" sentences given to a former Army major and his wife who were convicted of abusing their three young foster children for several years.
A jury last year convicted former Army Maj. John Jackson and his wife, Carolyn Jackson, on several counts. At their sentencing in December, U.S. District Judge Katharine Hayden chastised prosecutors for seeking prison terms of between 15 and 20 years for them.
Instead, the judge sentenced John Jackson to probation and Carolyn Jackson to two years in prison, telling prosecutors during the hearing, "This is not a game. This is not the Giants versus Miami. This is not, 'How many touchdowns can you get?'"
Prosecutors presented evidence during the trial that the children had suffered broken bones and other serious health problems and were severely underweight and developmentally delayed when they were removed from the family home in 2010.
An older sibling testified the children were beaten regularly and forced to eat hot pepper flakes and drink hot sauce as punishment. At sentencing, he told the judge his parents should receive the maximum punishment and deserved to "suffer just as much" as their children did.
One of the foster children died, but the Jacksons weren't charged with causing his death and it wasn't presented as evidence in the trial.
Prosecutors said the children's abuse lasted for years.
"By imposing such lenient sentences, the Court trivialized these offenses, which involved the abuse, neglect, and starvation of three defenseless victims over a five-year period," the U.S. attorney's office wrote Thursday.
Defense attorneys argued the Jacksons' child-rearing methods might have been objectionable to some people but weren't criminal. They also said the foster children had serious health problems before they joined the Jackson family.
The case was brought in federal court because the Jacksons lived at Picatinny Arsenal, an Army facility about 35 miles west of New York City, during the time period covered in the indictment. That complicated the sentencing process because there are no federal sentencing guidelines for child endangerment, a crime normally prosecuted at the state level.
In its appeal, the U.S. attorney's office argued the judge should have used sentencing guidelines for assault because the endangerment counts on which the Jacksons were convicted included allegations of assault. That presumably would have led to harsher sentences.
Defense attorneys accused the prosecution of trying to use a backdoor to get the assault allegations in at sentencing when they weren't directly considered by the jury at trial.
Attorney Rubin Sinins, who represented Carolyn Jackson during the trial, declined to comment on the appeal Thursday.
In giving John Jackson probation, the judge cited his military record and the fact he didn't participate directly in the abuse. She conceded Carolyn Jackson endangered the children's welfare but disagreed with the government's depiction of her as engaging in a systematic reign of terror against the children.