Sibling had a role, convicted killer says


April 24, 1992|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

Twice tried and twice convicted in the shooting death of a 15-year-old girl, Jessie Jackson decided he would no longer be his brother's keeper.

Yesterday, moments before being sentenced to life plus 30 years in prison, the former stockade guard at Fort Meade said he could no longer lie, could no longer protect his younger brother.

Yes, he would lead police to his brother, also a suspect in the killing. And he would testify that the firebombing and shooting was the brother's idea, not his.

"I spoke with my brother yesterday and I told him I couldn't lie about what happened," Jackson said in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court. "I love him. That's why I didn't say anything in the beginning."

That was in 1989. Jackson, an Army sergeant, faced court-martial after being accused of assaulting a Severn woman, Suk Cha Chong.

Later that year, the woman's house in the Pioneer City area was firebombed and her daughter, Sun Young Chong, a Meade High School sophomore, was killed by a bullet fired into their kitchen. Jackson was charged with murder.

Although testimony at his 1990 trial showed he had been in the Fort Meade barracks at the time of the killing, a jury decided that Jackson was indeed behind the killing and a judge sentenced him to life plus 30 years in prison.

But the state Court of Special Appeals overturned the murder and arson convictions and ordered a new trial, ruling that the trial judge incorrectly disallowed evidence that Jackson had presented a solid defense at his court-martial -- where he was acquitted -- and thus had little cause to intimidate the witness.

By the time Jackson's retrial began last month, prosecutors had changed their strategy. They conceded that Jackson, 27, did not carry out the killing but argued that he had arranged for his brother, James Jackson, to do it.

In closing arguments, prosecutor Ronald M. Naditch insisted that the defendant had been the only person with sufficient motive to harm the Chong family. A jury found Jessie Jackson guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and arson, setting the stage for yesterday's sentencing hearing.

On March 27, shortly after the second trial's conclusion, a warrant was issued for the arrest of James Jackson on first-degree murder charges.

Yesterday, Mr. Naditch asked Judge Eugene M. Lerner, who also presided over Jackson's first trial, to give the defendant the same sentence. Jackson's attorney, Robert H. Waldman, asked the judge for life with all but 30 years suspended.

Then Jackson stood and identified his brother as the person who had assaulted Suk Cha Chong in the first place. He admitted to having sent his brother to the woman's house, but said firebombing and shooting had not been part of the plan.

"He was supposed to knock on that door and let that woman know that I was not the one who attacked her, and he was supposed to let her see him again so she would know," Jackson said, his voice cracking.

With that, Jessie Jackson provided the final piece to the puzzle, according to his attorney. Ms. Chong had told police that the man she believed to have been her attacker had knocked on the door 30 minutes before the firebombing.

"She slammed the door in his face, and the brother got angry and took it to these tragic extremes," Mr. Waldman said.

(Ms. Chong, who speaks no English, was not in court for the hearing, but Shari Heise, a victim advocate for the state's attorney's office, said she phoned her afterward. Ms. Heise said Mrs. Chong maintains that Jessie Jackson was her attacker.)

Judge Lerner again sentenced Jackson to life plus 30 years, but said he would consider reducing the sentence if Jackson cooperated with police and prosecutors in arresting, trying and convicting his brother.

When the judge asked Jackson if he was willing to help authorities find his brother, Jackson replied: "I know where he is. I can tell you where he is.

"Everybody knows where he is. He's not hiding."

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