Zaire Jackson’s murder trial heats up

Defendant Zaire Jackson listens to testimony at his murder trial in Mercer County Superior Court on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. (GREGG SLABODA — The Trentonian)

Zaire Jackson listens to testimony at his murder trial on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. (GREGG SLABODA — The Trentonian)

 

When Zaire Jackson was 17 years old, two detectives at Trenton Police headquarters questioned him extensively in hopes of getting the city teenager to confess to murder.

The officers warned Jackson that he would eventually have a criminal trial and told him the jurors would want to know if he was a “ruthless thug” or a person who “just made a mistake” in the shooting death of 22-year-old Irvin “Swirv” Jackson.

“I didn’t do it,” Zaire Jackson, who was not related to the victim, said during the intense police interview on April 20, 2012.

Jackson, now 22, continues to deny any wrongdoing as he defends himself in a court of law on allegations he murdered Irvin Jackson in broad daylight on Monday, April 9, 2012, which was the day after Easter Sunday.

The trial

On Tuesday in Superior Court Judge Andrew Smithson’s courtroom, the jury in Zaire Jackson’s murder trial viewed the video recording of Jackson’s April 2012 interview with police — a lengthy session that defense attorney Steven Lember described as “an interrogation.”

Trenton Police Detective Scott Peterson and Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office investigator James Francis in the video used a variety of techniques, including fabrications about evidence, to get Jackson to crack, but the defendant did not take the bait.

The officers told Jackson that “a lot of people” saw him running past Hermitage Avenue and up Moses Alley with a gun in his hand. The officers also implied that multiple surveillance systems captured Jackson on camera and suggested that they had data from cellphone towers proving he was at the scene where the victim was shot and killed execution style.

“I ain’t kill Swirv,” Jackson said in the police interview.

“Yeah you did, bro,” one of the officers said in response.

“You did something stupid, man,” one of the detectives said.

“I didn’t kill him. Feel me?” Jackson said in response.

“If you keep telling yourself, you’ll eventually believe it. … I believe it was self-defense. You are 17 years old. Let me help you,” one of the officers said to Jackson.

“I ain’t do it. I wasn’t there,” Jackson said in response.

The officers told Jackson he could set himself free by telling the truth and told him he was a “cold-blooded killer” who needed to “accept responsibility” for the victim’s death.

“I didn’t do it,” Jackson said after about two hours of questioning from police.

“All right,” an officer said in response. “I know that you did, though.”

Cross-examination

Nearly five years after questioning the defendant at police headquarters, Detective Peterson testified as a witness under oath Tuesday at Jackson’s murder trial.

Steve Lember, who is representing Jackson as his pool attorney, on Tuesday cross-examined Peterson in ways that got the detective to admit he had used techniques of fabrication in a failed attempt to get Jackson to confess to the murder.

“You wanted to see that my client was guilty, because you believed he was guilty,” Lember said to Peterson. “You lied to my client repeatedly in that interrogation.”

Police only had one low-quality video that appears to show a person running up Moses Alley from North Hermitage Avenue in Trenton’s West Ward. Mercer County Assistant Prosecutors Skylar Weissman and Mike Mennuti played that video in court Tuesday, giving the jurors a chance to see what was happening at the intersection of North Hermitage and Moses Alley in the moments before and after a shooter killed Irvin “Swirv” Jackson.

Peterson on the witness stand described it as a “very poor” and “choppy” video and conceded the video in and of itself is not definitive proof that Zaire Jackson was chasing after Irvin Jackson up Moses Alley toward Murray Street, which is the area where the victim was fatally shot once in the head. A ballistics report shows police found a projectile in the victim’s head and one embedded in the ground near the victim’s body, according to Lember.

Days after the April 2012 murder, detectives told Jackson they had cellphone tower data on his whereabouts, but the reality is that it was not until 2013 when police finally obtained a warrant to get access to Jackson’s cellphone records.

Contrary to what he previously said, Peterson on Tuesday admitted he had never believed Jackson acted in self-defense and said police wouldn’t have set the defendant free if he had confessed to murder.

Police say events that transpired on Easter Sunday 2012 — when Zaire Jackson got into a fight earlier in the day and later was relaxing inside a house that got shot up in the night — prompted the defendant to allegedly settle a beef by murdering Irvin Jackson.

The murder trial is scheduled to resume Wednesday morning at the Mercer County Criminal Courthouse.

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