Florida Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes said he was glad to hear from family and friends who know Palm Beach County pastor James Jackson as an encouraging, positive light in so many peoples’ lives. He said he was a well-thought out and articulate man, as demonstrated in court Thursday and over the course of several letters Jackson has sent to the judge since his arrest in 2016.
And, Kastrenakes said, he thinks Jackson can do good and changes lives. But, he continued, it will be from prison after “a jury found (Jackson) guilty of unspeakable crimes.”
“It’s mind-blowing that a man of the cloth, a father, would do these things,” Kastrenakes said. “To have this dark side that is just incredible and deserving of severe punishment.”
Jackson, 50, was sentenced to 100 years in prison Thursday after a six-person jury found him guilty of 11 counts, including sexual activity with a child and lewd or lascivious molestation for acts with three girls in December.
Jackson, who maintains his innocence, said he wasn’t there Thursday to ask for leniency, but instead to discuss appreciation for those around him who continued to support him, his passion for helping teens and his own experience of sexual assault as a child.
“I don’t know how to feel remorse for this crime, because I did not commit a crime” Jackson said. “I am a pastor and I have lived up to the oath that I’ve sworn. I’ve never let it down, and I’ll never let it down.”
West Palm Beach police detectives said Jackson groomed several teenage girls for several years. One of the girls told police the interactions with Jackson began when she was a pre-teen. She said the “sessions” with Jackson began with watching pornography on his laptop and led to sexual interactions.
During sentencing, Assistant State Attorney Jo Wilensky said these “counseling sessions” were “calculated and premeditated.”
Two other women, who were minors at the time of the sexual interactions, described similar situations with Jackson, police said. The girls’ relationship to Jackson is redacted from the police report.
“There is no punishment that could possibly cover what these victims went through,” Wilensky said.
As family and friends painted positive memories and characteristics of Jackson, she said it illustrated how he was able to get away with the manipulation for years.
“He was one person out in the open and another behind closed doors,” Wilensky said.
Jackson’s mother, Sylvia Brown, talked about how loving and positive her son was, but also about a trauma her son endured as a child and how it went untreated, believing it was a physical alignment that plagued him and not a mental one later in life. She told the judge she came to court to ask that her son receive mental-health treatment while incarcerated.
“I know we’re all being healed today. There’s been a lot of hurt,” Brown said. “But we still need help, and I’m asking for help.”
Jackson and his wife, Valerie, ran Positive Habitat for Aspiring Teens, a nonprofit known as PHAT, that according to state records, provided “a diverse body of teenagers with an opportunity to interact in a positive habitat amongst their peers. Teaching them the skills to make positive decisions in everyday life and aspiring ethnic harmony.”
Valerie Jackson was also arrested and charged with child abuse. Police said she knew of the sexual abuse and did nothing to stop it.
The 49-year-old pleaded guilty to child abuse and child neglect charges in May 2018 and will be sentenced in March, according to court records. In her plea agreement, it states the maximum amount of time she will serve in prison is 20 years and the minimum would be 106 months, or nearly nine years.
Months before his trial, Jackson sent several letters to Kastrenakes while he was presiding over his case, signing each handwritten letter “Pastor James Jackson” or “A Humble Inmate,” and even wrote that he was told not to correspond with him directly. In the letters, he spoke about his church, the Light in the Garden Ministries, which was located west of Lake Worth, and his working with teens across Palm Beach County.
In one letter before his trial, he expressed his worries in the era of #MeToo and the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. He said ”as a survivor of multiple sexual assaults,” he did endorse the movement, but was worried about the influence on his case.
“Your honor, based on these emotional influences the upheaval to the recent accusations surrounding Supreme Court Judge Kavanaugh (...) will the courts find jurors who are without an influential prejudice nor a premeditated registry of guilty with these changes during the holiday season?”