Mother of teen says police didn’t have permission to question son in murder case
The mother of a Trenton teenager testified police didn’t have her permission to interview her son about potential involvement in the 2012 shooting death of a 21-year-old city man, contradicting a claim from police that they took proper steps before interrogating the underage suspect.
Tonyell Jackson, the mother of Zaire Jackson, recalled at a Miranda hearing she was with her two children at a city motel April 20, 2012, when she was visited by three plain-clothes detectives. She recognized one as Detective Otis Wood, who testified he stood by watching while another detective went over the form with Tonyell Jackson.
Police needed the form before they could interview Zaire Jackson, who was 17 at the time, about the April 9 murder of Irvin “Swirv” Jackson, an unrelated man who was shot in the head in broad daylight on Moses Alley near North Hermitage Avenue.
Tonyell Jackson said police never informed her they had arrested Zaire Jackson for robbery and that he was back at police headquarters, sitting in an interrogation room. She said detectives only asked questions about her son’s whereabouts, which contradicted Wood’s testimony that she signed the form and waived her right to be present at the interview because she was “fed up” with her son and could no longer control him.
Testimony about whether Tonyell Jackson signed the form is crucial because detectives acknowledged they lost it. The filled-out form, bearing Tonyell Jackson’s signature, was never produced in court, and Scott Peterson, the Trenton detective who reportedly went over the form with Tonyell Jacskon, didn’t testify at the hearing, which resumed Wednesday.
Jackson’s attorney, Steven Lember, who is arguing tape of the interrogation shouldn’t be allowed into evidence, said the loss of the form is “very upsetting.”
Deputy First Assistant Prosecutor Kimm Lacken wants a jury to see parts of the interrogation at trial, even though Zaire Jackson didn’t admit to the murder during the two-hour-long interview with detectives. In fact, his attorney said, he denied 38 times that he killed Irvin Jackson.
Judge Robert Billmeier heard from three witnesses, including two who testified on behalf of Zaire Jackson, and listened to both attorneys’ summations. But he didn’t rule on the evidence matter and is expected to issue a written opinion at a later date.
For part of the hearing, James Francis, a detective in the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office’s special investigation unit who worked on the homicide case with Peterson, was back on the stand to finish his testimony.
On cross-examination, he admitted he told Zaire Jackson he believed he had killed the victim in self-defense only to get him to confess. He also said a “fatherly figure” routine, in which he slung his arm around Zaire Jackson’s shoulder and lectured him, was done solely to “develop a bond” he planned to exploit.
“That was nothing more than a tactic to get him to confess,” Lember said.
Lember also asked Francis about a part of the tape when Zaire Jackson is heard expressing a “desire” for his father, Ronald Cromwell, to be present at his interview. Cromwell, testified that he is not Zaire Jackson’s biological father, but was the “father figure” in his life since he was 1 year old. Zaire Jackson does not have a relationship with his biological father, the man testified.
Cromwell said Zaire Jackson was living with him around the time of the murder. He said he heard rumors that Zaire Jackson was involved in the shooting death of Irvin Jackson, but never asked him about it because he “didn’t want to know if he did it or not.”
Cromwell was allowed over strenuous objections from Lacken to testify that he would have instructed Zaire Jackson not to speak to detectives and to get an attorney if police had contacted him and said they had his stepson in custody.
Lacken said the testimony shouldn’t have been allowed because it was speculative.
“Counsel is asking him to testify with hindsight goggles,” she told Billmeier.
Lacken established on cross-examination that Tonyell Jackson was the only one with parental rights because Cromwell never married into the family, nor had he been appointed Zaire Jackson’s legal guardian by a court.
During closing, she attacked Tonyell Jackson, saying she was “lying” about not signing the consent form because she felt “guilty” for not being present at her son’s interrogation. Police, she said, had no reason to lie about the form, which is used as an “added measure of proof” that shows steps were taken to contact a juvenile suspect’s parents. But ultimately, she said, Zaire Jackson was properly advised of his rights.
“It’s very unfortunate the state doesn’t have it,” she said. “But it doesn’t kill the case because it’s not a legal requirement. He was almost 18 years old. He knew what he was doing.”