ELYRIA — Defense attorneys for Vincent Jackson Jr. portrayed the admitted killer’s upbringing as “chaotic” on Tuesday during the first day of a hearing that will end with a three-judge panel deciding whether Jackson deserves death for gunning down Qiana Walton during a June 2008 robbery of Gas USA.
Jackson and his lawyers haven’t denied that he shot Walton once in the head after she cooperated with him during the robbery, turning off the alarm system and handing over about $12,000 before he raised his AK-47 and fired.
“We know he had a choice, but what shaped his choice?” defense attorney Dan Wightman asked during his opening statement.
Assistant Lorain County Prosecutor Tony Cillo argued that Jackson — who has pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and other charges in the case — should receive the death penalty rather than a life prison sentence.
He said that Jackson demonstrated his level of remorse immediately after shooting Walton when he called her a “bitch” before fleeing the store. The killing was captured in a graphic surveillance video that the judges on the panel saw repeatedly during a brief trial last month before Jackson’s guilty plea to aggravated murder was accepted.
“That is a real-time demonstration of no remorse,” Cillo said.
Wightman argued that Jackson’s decision to kill Walton was shaped by his childhood on the tough streets of Chicago with two parents who both used drugs.
“He didn’t grow up on the streets of Amherst or Avon. He had a rough upbringing,” Wightman said.
Christie Jackson, Vincent Jackson Jr.’s mother, testified that after her son was born, she and his father, Vincent Jackson Sr., split from a marriage marred by domestic violence that continued even after their split.
She said after the divorce, she took up crack cocaine and began drinking. She said she even would prostitute herself to get drugs, cut herself and had tried to kill herself. She admitted that her son was around for much of that.
“He was a happy baby, but as he got older he was hyper and defiant,” Christie Jackson said.
Vincent Jackson Sr., who said he abused drugs and alcohol off and on throughout his son’s life, said that he eventually ended up having custody of his children, but they would still go to their mother’s apartment.
Sometimes, he said, he would go there and find people doing drugs and his children unattended. And although he tried hard to keep his son on the right path, there were problems.
He recalled one incident in which one of his son’s elementary school teachers called to tell him that his son had accurately described how to freebase cocaine during show-and-tell.
He also said he suspected his son of using drugs and of involvement in the Gangster Disciples street gang. He said he once asked his son to try on a red jacket, the color of a rival gang, and the younger Jackson jumped back and said he couldn’t wear that color.
Lucille Jackson, Vincent Jackson Jr.’s 88-year-old grandmother, also described her grandson’s troubles in school. She testified via a video uplink from a federal prison in Illinois, where she is serving time on fraud charges.
She said she remembered her grandson being sent to a juvenile detention home for ditching school.
“He went to the juvenile home because he didn’t want to go to school, and he didn’t want to go to school because he had trouble learning,” Lucille Jackson said. “He didn’t want to be labeled as less than perfect.”
Wightman said that Vincent Jackson Jr. suffers from a host of psychological problems, including antisocial disorder with paranoid traits, attention-deficit disorder, “borderline intellectual functioning” and a history of drug and alcohol abuse.
Before shooting Walton, Jackson had served a lengthy prison sentence in Illinois for shooting a man in the head. But defense attorney J. Anthony Rich argued that wasn’t as bad as it sounds.
He said during a break in the proceedings that his client was defending himself at a family cookout from a group of men who had come over to argue with him about damage he’d caused to a car one of them owned.
One of the men was armed with a crowbar, Rich said, and Jackson fired the gun to protect himself and his family. He said the victim in that case, who survived, later apologized to Jackson and the two men became friendly in prison.
The hearing resumes today with testimony expected from a defense expert on Jackson’s mental health.