Nicholas Jackson faces a federal judge Monday charged with drug trafficking. A robbing crew who killed his son were in search of drugs and money, prosecutors say. (Artist rendering)
ATLANTA — In a roundabout way, Nicholas Jackson brought the violent death of his 15-year-old son on himself, a hearing in U.S. District Court in Atlanta revealed Monday.
Rumors circulated that Jackson, a known cocaine distributor, kept $1 million and 50 kilograms of cocaine in his Autry Street home near downtown Norcross, prosecutors said. But a six-man robbery crew that stormed the home’s basement and fatally shot Jackson’s son, Norcross High School student Nick Jackson, was looking for a cache that was not there, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Skye Davis.
Information about the robbery crew’s motive came from two of the suspects charged in the teen’s death — the only two who are cooperating with Gwinnett prosecutors, Davis said. She left no doubt that “the home was specifically targeted based on (the elder) Jackson’s drug trafficking,” giving reason to a crime that shocked many in the historic city by way of its brashness.
Jackson, 38, is charged with drug possession and trafficking alongside eight other men in a federal indictment. He faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison, where there is no parole.
Shackled, wearing a bright-orange jumpsuit and towering over his codefendants, Jackson nodded and smiled at supporters that included his mother, wife and teenage daughter as he entered the courtroom. Family members declined comment.
An investigation that began in early 2011 showed Jackson and others, including his “right-hand man” Darren Dunlap, acted as distributors, brokers and couriers for Mexican drug traffickers. Authorities seized eight kilograms of cocaine, 75 kilograms of marijuana and $800,000 in the facet of the investigation that involved Jackson, Davis said.
None of the eight suspects named in the federal indictment with Jackson are among the seven men charged in the killing of Jackson’s son, a middle-school valedictorian and football player at Norcross High.
At Monday’s detention hearing, Jackson’s attorney, Stanley Baum, asked the court to grant a $25,000 bond, stressing the family is ready to pledge its assets.
“It’s an unfortunate thing that his son has died,” Baum said. “But if it’s true that (robbers) targeted the home ... that would just make the whole family more of a victim.”
Davis argued that Jackson is a flight risk and danger to the community.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan Baverman withheld a ruling on Jackson’s bond until his attorney could produce documents showing the true value of his home. “If we’re going to grant a bond, it would be far in excess of $25,000 — many, many times that,” the judge told Baum.
The three codefendants in the hearing, who prosecutors called illegal Mexican nationals, were denied bond. One of them, David Gomez, was identified in an agent’s testimony as a “top lieutenant” in the organization, and another, Jose Luis Cano-Pacheco, as a “boss,” who controlled drug runners.
DEA Agent Michael Connolly testified Monday that 27 phones were tapped and hundreds of hours of surveillance conducted during the operation.
Jackson, too, had a system for watching, by way of “workers” he employed, said Davis.
When authorities stopped Dunlap in May last year and pulled five kilos of cocaine from the vehicle, Jackson dispatched someone to observe the search, and he phoned a Mexican counterpart to warn of “a problem,” Davis said.
Jackson’s background includes a string of arrests but only two convictions, for aggravated assault when he was 19 and battery five years later, Davis said.
The Feb. 2 home-invasion rattled city officials and the victim’s many admirers.
Nick Jackson and his sister were home alone when men stormed their family’s residence. Investigators believe the teen was barricading the door to his basement bedroom when six shots were fired. One shot penetrated his heart, killing him.
A Norcross police detective testified in an earlier hearing that the elder Jackson was so incensed by seeing his son shot, he tore the bedroom door off its hinges and flung it across the basement. Norcross police assisted DEA agents with Jackson’s arrest Wednesday.
Six suspects were arrested leaving the Jackson’s home and charged with burglary and murder; a seventh man was booked later, but police don’t believe he was at the home. The rented getaway van was allegedly filled with ski masks, latex gloves, duct tape and handguns.
Also in the van: More than $19,000.
That money was not discussed in federal court. In Gwinnett, District Attorney Danny Porter said he believes the money was pilfered from the Jackson residence, though “one of the defendants has another explanation.”
Jackson knew at least one of the men accused of killing his son, Porter said.
In a packed probable cause hearing in February, Jackson remained outside the courtroom, unseen by the murder suspects. He would later attend a “Victims’ Vigil” in April, set up the Gwinnett District Attorney’s Office to benefit grieving families.
Baum said the Jackson family left the home, valued at more than $200,000, after the killing. Jackson has worked as a contractor and built the tri-story Craftsman himself, on a plot he purchased years ago for $35,000, Baum said.
The investigation into Jackson and others led authorities to a related Mexican crystal methamphetamine and money laundering ring in metro Atlanta. Five suspects were named in a separate indictment released last week and summarily rounded up, officials said.
U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said the takedown, in totality, has been “a step toward making Atlanta a safer community.”
Another detention hearing for Jackson’s codefendants is scheduled Wednesday. Only Dunlap, Jackson’s close associate, remains at large. Federal officials urged anyone with information on Dunlap’s whereabouts to call the U.S. Marshals Service at 1-877-WANTED2 or the DEA Atlanta Field Division at 404-893-7000.
An award for excellent students at Hopewell Christian Academy, where Nick Jackson graduated atop his eighth-grade class, will bear his name.