Friday, April 13, 2012

The Throw Away Child


by Donna Pendergast

It has been often said that a baby is a miracle from heaven. Miracle Jackson was just that. Born in February of 2000, Miracle was a beautiful, healthy baby girl. But there were to be no miracles in the cards in Miracle Jackson's short life. Her young life would be snuffed out after only 7 months by her own father in the most horrific sort of crime imaginable.

Miracle Jackson would die on September 14th, 2000, with a sock stuffed down her throat and duct tape affixed to her tiny face. The tape covering her eyes, nose and mouth working in tandem with the sock depriving her of the oxygen necessary to sustain her life. Her body was found stuffed into a plastic bag which was then discarded like a piece of garbage in a vacant lot in the city of Detroit.

How could this happen? If history was any indicator, how could it not?

Miracle Jackson was born to a mother, Tracey Swan, who had a history of psychiatric problems and had been diagnosed with manic depressive disorder. Miracle lived with her mother and her father, Shawn Jackson, who was her mother's short term boyfriend.

What is wrong with this picture? Everything!

Four years before Miracle was born Tracey Swan had her parental rights terminated to her other six children. This occurred when then boyfriend, Shawn Pleasant, (note the irony of the names in this case) the father of all six children, brutally beat five-year-old Kenneth Swan with a shovel. Kenneth was left severely brain damaged in a vegetative state where he now requires around-the clock care for the rest of his life. Pleasant was sentenced to a 3-15 year prison sentence on child abuse charges. He remains incarcerated on those charges to this day.

After Pleasant was incarcerated, Tracey became involved with Shawn Jackson and would later become pregnant. Jackson moved to California before Miracle was born but returned to Michigan in April of 2000 and moved in with Tracey. In July, a Child Protective Services worker was sent to the apartment on a complaint that Miracle was abused by being burned and scratched. Despite Tracey's mental instability, despite the prior termination of parental rights and despite the pending complaint, the worker opted to allow Miracle to remain in the home.

It would be a fatal mistake.

On Wednesday, September 14, 2000 around 2:00pm, Ms. Swan received a call from Jackson at her place of employment, Burger King. Jackson advised Ms. Swan that a Child Protective Services worker had come to the apartment and taken Miracle away. A suspicious Swan contacted police who quickly determined that the Family Independence Agency (FIA) had not taken the child. The police immediately began their search for Miracle. Early the next morning Jackson admitted under questioning from homicide detectives that he had murdered the baby because he was mad at something Tracey Swan had said. Jackson then led police to where he had disposed of Miracle's body by wrapping in in a plastic bag and tossing it into the center of an abandoned tire in a vacant field.

The crime scene was horrific. Even hardened police officers blanched at the sight of the tiny baby who had been discarded like a rag doll., her body crumpled, her face completely covered in duct tape.

An odd and misplaced calculation on the part of a major local Detroit newspaper brought the savagery of the crime home to an unprepared audience. On September 15th, the Detroit Free Press carried a picture of a Wayne County Medical Examiner's
worker holding up the plastic bag containing Miracle's body on the front page of the newspaper. The decision to publish the picture at all, no less publish it on the front page, almost universally sparked outrage in the community. The fallout was so severe that the Executive Editor of the Free Press issued an explanation justifying the newspaper's position on the front page of the paper the following day.

Shawn Jackson was tried on First Degree Murder charge before a horrified jury. The pictures of miracle's duct-taped face were hard to stomach even for a hard core prosecutor like myself. The jury very quickly reached a verdict of guilty of First Degree Murder. Jackson will spend the rest of his natural life in prison. with no possibility of parole.

As horrific as the murder of Miracle Jackson was, it can be said that something good came of it. Within a week of her body being found, major institutional changes were initiated in two different State of Michigan agencies. As a result of Miracle's death, computerized records of live births are now cross checked with the FIA's central record of known abusers. this puts the FIA on notice when a child is born to a parent with a history of abuse or neglect. The FIA is now required to assess the risk to those children in an attempt to head off any more tragic stories like that of Miracle Jackson.

Miracle Jackson's sad story can be told in one short sentence: Forgotten in life, remembered in death.

May her legacy be that other children are spared her horrific fate.

Miracles do happen, Hope springs eternal.

Statements made in this post are my own and do not reflect the views, opinion or position of the Michigan Attorney General or the Michigan Department of Attorney General.

2 comments:

Cozy in Texas said...

I don't understand how this can happen when so many childless couples long for children and there are many safe places to leave children who are not wanted by their parents. Putting children in the "system" doesn't always help either because we hear of so many foster families abusing children.
A very sad story.
Ann

DrGina said...

Donna this is a very sad story. Too many infants end up literally thrown away by their drug-addicted, mentally ill parents. With infants child protective workers cannot hesitate a moment because timely action can save lives.