(Editor’s note: This article contains details about rape.)
HOLDENVILLE — Autumn Jackson had waited more than two years to tell her story in court and to confront the couple that abused her from age 14 to 21. For 30 minutes this afternoon, she read a detailed victim impact statement to Hughes County District Judge Timothy Olsen regarding the sexual, physical and mental abuse perpetrated by James and Rebecca Jackson, a pair of U.S. Army veterans who became her legal guardians in Illinois, moved to Oklahoma and won election to the Wetumka City Council.
By the day’s end, Olsen had sentenced James Jackson to 15 years in prison and 15 years of probation for his conviction on four charges, including child pornography and bestiality. Olsen sentenced Rebecca Jackson to four years in prison and six years of probation for her role in the matter.
As underscored by the presence of two FBI agents in court Monday, James Jackson is also expected to be extradited to Illinois to face other sex crime charges.
“I was probably raped twice a week, and I had been orally raped probably at least four times a week, by the time I was taken to Oklahoma,” Autumn Jackson told the court. “I was verbally, mentally, and emotionally abused, to the point I couldn’t hardly stutter out my own name most days.”
Now 23 years old, her “own name” had legally been changed from Paula Israel to Autumn Jackson in the same Hughes County courtroom she sat in Monday. As she recalled how she escaped her abusive biological family and believed she had found a real family that would love her in the Jacksons, she noted the challenge of determining her identity now.
“By the time they successfully moved me to Oklahoma, Paula died in that disgusting building at 120 S. Main St. in Wetumka. Her heart broke, and she died on that floor. And from her broken heart and brainwashed mind and James’ sick self, Autumn came to exist,” the young woman said, noting that the Jacksons had called her other names as well. “I hate my name. I hate Paula, I hate Claire, I hate Elizabeth, and I hate Autumn. None of those people are me. They are damaged versions of the real me. They are me when I was dragged off of my life path, kicking and screaming, and beat into submission.”
For the smattering of Wetumka residents who had traveled roughly 20 miles to Holdenville to support the young woman, the remainder of her victim impact statement landed just as heavy, a combination of astute introspection and blunt description of the Jacksons’ perversions and manipulations.
“This duo makes for the perfect pair. One to lure, one to distract, and together they can corrupt and ruin innocence. If you’re tempted to think that one deserves more or less than the other, I encourage you to not entertain those thoughts. There are reasons James and Rebecca carry keys to the same locked cabinet of what we now know to be evidence,” Autumn Jackson said, referring to storage units and suitcases filled with terabytes of computer files. “There are reasons Rebecca was free to go on her own everyday to work outside the home while I was kept on a leash. There are reasons Rebecca could be spoken with alone, and citizens will tell you that they tried relentlessly to speak with me alone and never could. There are reasons they have been together for over 30 years. They are grandparents together. They are partners. They are best friends. Any words from them on the contrary are nothing more than just moves on a chessboard.”
Shortly after she finished reading her prepared victim impact statement, Autumn Jackson asked the judge if she could stand, say one more thing and fork the proverbial king and queen.
“You’re both weak, and you’re going to burn in hell,” she said. “And I’m not even sure there is a God, but you better hope there isn’t.”
‘These aren’t victimless crimes’
Olsen announced James Jackson’s sentence first. The former mayor — who hired and fired attorneys, temporarily represented himself pro se and filed dozens of vaguely coherent court motions alleging torture at the hands of jailers and significant health problems for which he argued he deserved consideration — barely spoke in court, other than to say “yes, sir,” to the judge and “excuse me” when he belched. After receiving the judge’s sentence, he carried an old liquor box filled with his litigious musings out of the courtroom and back down the stairs to jail.
He did not respond when asked if he had anything to say.
Rebecca Jackson drove to the courthouse herself Monday from the Oklahoma City area, where she had rented an apartment and had been working for a landscaping company as she awaited sentencing. Her plea deal included evidentiary statements against her now-ex-husband that District Attorney Paul Smith said “gave us much of our ammunition against James Jackson.”
Former Mayor James Jackson convicted for child pornography, bestiality by Tres Savage
But Smith also told Olsen that, although Rebecca Jackson “describes herself as a victim” and probably was under James Jackson’s control in some ways, she is “deserving of punishment from this court.”
“We believe she is an active participant,” Smith said. “She is a principal offender.”
Rebecca Jackson’s attorney, Irvin Box, argued otherwise and asked Olsen to consider sentencing her only to weekend incarceration so she could retain her job and pay restitution. Box said he sympathized with Autumn Jackson but said his client also deserved consideration for the experiences that shaped her life.
“Rebecca Jackson came from a home where she, at an early age, was raped repeatedly, at a young age, as early as kindergarten, by a step brother,” Box said. “She had a physically abusive father.”
Box said Rebecca Jackson joined the military at age 18 and achieved the pay grade of E-8. He said her existence with James Jackson was “almost Stockholm Syndrome.”
Olsen recessed court and took about 35 minutes to deliberate on Rebecca Jackson’s sentence. He said he weighed mitigating factors — such as her own alleged abuse and her career in the military and as a pharmacist — as well as aggravating factors.
“These aren’t victimless crimes that occurred. There are and were victims associated with these types of crimes,” Olsen said. “Also, as an aggravating circumstance, the court looks at the length of time she participated in this criminal activity.”
Olsen noted that the charges and allegations facing both of the Jacksons were not limited to an isolated incident.
“Her education and military experiences could be seen as a mitigating factor, but I could also see it as a factor in aggravation because the court is not totally convinced that she is as much of a victim as she has said she is in this case,” Olsen said. “She could have reported a lot of this conduct, she could have got out of it, she could have left Mr. Jackson. She’s smart, she’s educated, she’s got a military background. She doesn’t come across as naive.
“What she allowed to happen in this case is pretty despicable, really.”
‘You have the opportunity today to end this’
Throughout Monday’s sentencing hearing, those who spoke revealed the potential scope and history of the crimes allegedly committed by James and Rebecca Jackson.
While noting the incriminating statement Rebecca Jackson provided against James, Smith referenced “the rape of a child early on in their relationship.” At the conclusion of the day’s hearing, Olsen discussed the transfer of electronic evidence with one of the FBI agents, who assured the judge that no items would be destroyed. After court adjourned, the FBI agent carried an arm-load of computer equipment out of the Hughes County Courthouse and to his car.
But the conclusion of Autumn Jackson’s victim impact statement painted the broadest and most nauseating picture of how many young people James and Rebecca Jackson may have victimized. Autumn Jackson had kept mental notes of names she heard in their household. She knew about the woman who had lived with the Jacksons before her in Fulton, Illinois — who trained her how to work at the family’s ice cream shop — and she knew about atrocities described to varying degrees by the Jacksons over the years.
In begging the court to prevent the Jacksons from being in a position to victimize more people, she noted her birth name again: Paula Israel.
“Please do not be like Paula. Please do not allow yourself to be tricked. Please do not make the mistake of underestimating them. Please do not be like Paula, Michelle, Christy, Amber, Preet, Sarah, the original Claire, Aiden, Amelia, Carmen, Layla, Preeti, Rebecca’s sister Anne, Katarina, and hundreds of more victims, including the two babies from (the Oklahoma town of) Dustin, who could have never said no,” the young woman said. “You can say no for others. You have the opportunity today to end this. You have the opportunity to give me peace. I’m not OK. I’m not who I was. I am better, but I am not OK. I am a young woman with a broken heart and open wounds and no family and no trust, and I’m doing my best. And I can live with that, I can continue to heal, as long as today I can put some trust into you and the justice system that this ends now. There can’t be another Paula. There just can’t.”
‘I know I am going to do really big things’
When Olsen sentenced Rebecca Jackson to four years in prison and six years of probation for three charges related to conspiracy and computer crimes, Autumn Jackson slightly smiled before hugging Seminole County victim coordinator Jennifer Conn, who had helped her prepare for the day’s events.
A sheriff’s deputy clasped Rebecca Jackson’s hands in handcuffs before leading her off to jail. Afterward, Autumn Jackson said she felt relief.
“At first I was terrified and overall incredibly scared — scared that I couldn’t do it, scared that I would get up there and immediately want to walk out of the room,” she said. “Then, when I started speaking, I got quite mad, and I’m worried that came out a little too much in what I was saying. And then at the end, I just felt resolution, and then I added that little snippet, and it sealed it for me.”
Autumn Jackson said she has learned a great deal after escaping James and Rebecca Jackson.
“I feel like I have closed something and have started something new,” she said. “I know I am going to do really big things. I know that I am capable of great things now that I don’t have hinderances. On an off day, I can be found at Lake Michigan with an old car in an old city doing a job that matters.”