More than two years after he was arrested by a joint operation of federal and local law enforcement agencies, former Wetumka Mayor James Jackson has been convicted of sex crimes in Hughes County District Court and is expected to be extradited to Illinois for additional charges.
Arrested in March 2020, Jackson was facing a jury trial set to begin June 13 on seven charges. During a final pretrial hearing today, however, he pleaded no contest to four charges and was convicted by District Judge Timothy Olsen. The charges on which Jackson was convicted are:
- Conspiracy to commit a felony
- Violation of the Oklahoma Computer Crimes Act
- Aggravated possession of child pornography
- Crimes against nature by bestiality
“It’s been a long court battle,” District Attorney Paul Smith said in an interview. “We’ve had numerous evidentiary hearings with him representing himself and different attorneys that have been involved and different motions and whatnot where we have presented evidence. On our exhibit list, there’s like 24 exhibits. There’s like 180-some child pornography images — various images, videos and whatnot. And that’s what we know about. That’s what we have found.”
Jackson, who moved with his wife to Hughes County from Illinois in 2017, rose to power after clashing with longtime Wetumka leaders. He focused his time in office on addressing the city’s electricity rates, advocating for a new water treatment plant and firing a series of police chiefs. On the day he and his wife, Rebecca, agreed to resign from the Wetumka City Council, they had tried unsuccessfully to abolish the town’s police department.
“I’m not a politician,” James Jackson routinely said during interviews. “I don’t kiss babies or kiss butts.”
In the end, however, Jackson did far worse, and he faces more than a decade in prison related to possession of child pornography and at least one sexual encounter with a dog.
“I only caught a glimpse of that,” Smith said of alleged images or videos that show Jackson engaged sexually with a canine. “I really wasn’t wanting to see that. But that was my understanding. The dog was on him, and he was on the dog. That’s what I understand.”
Smith said Jackson’s sentencing is set for June 13, the date his trial had been scheduled to begin.
“We are going to recommend a 30-year sentence, with 15 to serve and 15 suspended,” Smith said, noting the sentencing agreement involved federal authorities.
Jackson’s wife, Rebecca Jackson, is also expected to be sentenced June 13 for charges related to her involvement with the child pornography.
“Rebecca Jackson ended up flipping on him somewhat and had a testimonial agreement to testify against him,” Smith said. “She provided a detailed statement, which was offered into the public record also.”
A young woman who lived with the Jacksons and had traveled from Illinois to Wetumka with them is expected to testify during the June 13 sentencing hearings, Smith said.
“He only wants that girl to testify once,” Smith said of the judge.
‘Ruin the rest of his life forever’
The young woman, who was 16 when she moved to Oklahoma with the Jacksons, appeared to play a key role in their March 2020 arrest.
On Feb. 15, 2021, the young woman wrote on Facebook that she had fled the state of Oklahoma in an attempt to escape James Jackson:
One year ago today, about 7 minutes from now, I turned the key in the ignition of a car I barely owned. I had about 3 or 4 outfits with me, some personal care products meant to last a few days, a teddy bear, and not anything else. And I left him. I drove, and drove, and drove, and I never went back. There had been times before where I had only drove a few hours before the fear caused me to turn around. Where his phone calls and threats were too loud. But this time I drove, and cried, and shook, and I didn’t stop until I once again saw the lights of Clinton, Iowa. And next month, on the 19th, at 9am, I will walk into the Hughes County Courthouse in Holdenville, Oklahoma, and do everything in my power to ruin the rest of his life forever.
James Jackson’s trial, however, was delayed in March 2021 and on several other instances. Jackson hired and fired attorneys before deciding to represent himself. He filed numerous court motions related to the evidence and witnesses against him, but he was unsuccessful in his efforts to disqualify damning testimony and images.
Still, prosecutors were unable to use all of the potential evidence against Jackson for his Hughes County case.
Smith said investigators found “a big old pink suitcase” in a Tulsa storage unit, as described by the young woman.
“The testimony was that it contains various electronic devices — hard drives — that contain child pornography,” Smith said. “The FBI has never been able to break the encryption on it, so we are not able to produce that.”
Smith said the FBI had been investigating James and Rebecca Jackson for their behavior as elected officials in Wetumka, but the actions of the young woman who had lived with them changed the focus of the case.
“Up until that time, it was being conducted by the FBI as a public corruption case,” Smith said. “So that kind of changed their gears toward the child pornography aspect of it, especially after a search warrant was executed there in Wetumka at the home that they had.”
Smith said the child pornography discovered by law enforcement appeared to have been downloaded from the internet “and stored for future use.”
“There is some evidence that he did create some pornography, in particular [of the girl],” Smith said. “We believe that those images, according to the testimony, are in the encrypted hard drive in the pink suitcase.”
‘What we can do when we all work together’
Smith praised the multi-agency effort that led to the Jacksons’ arrest and his conviction.
“This case kind of stands for what we can do when we all work together,” Smith said.
However, one of the first Oklahoma law enforcement officers to pursue James Jackson is now facing his own criminal charges. Jackson fired Joe Chitwood as Wetumka police chief while Chitwood was investigating a series of allegations against Jackson, including that he had stopped on the side of a road to take photos of a young child playing outside.
Subsequently, Chitwood became the chief of police — and the only commissioned officer — for the town of Calvin, just south of Wetumka. In November, he discussed the pending Jackson trial in a Q&A with NonDoc.
But in May, Chitwood was arrested by state law enforcement agents during an investigation into methamphetamine distribution in southeast Oklahoma. He now faces one count of distribution of a controlled dangerous substance.
While investigating James Jackson years earlier, Chitwood had driven to Fulton, Illinois, to meet with police there about allegations that James Jackson had abused another young woman who had also lived with the Jacksons.
Chitwood obtained a series of records related to that criminal investigation into the Jacksons. However, that young woman, who had spoken with police, later said she was too afraid of the Jacksons to cooperate further with law enforcement.
That event helped put James Jackson — who said he was a former U.S. Army intelligence officer — on the radar of federal law enforcement officials.
Smith said James Jackson will face lifetime registration as a sex offender and is expected to face additional charges in the state of Illinois.
During the 2022 regular session of the Oklahoma Legislature, lawmakers appropriated an additional $2.5 million for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to hire more agents to investigate cases in its backlog of internet child predator reports.