ATLANTA — Cocaine-trafficking suspect Nick Jackson was thrust into the spotlight last summer when a federal investigation revealed his criminal dealings could have indirectly prompted the fatal shooting of his 15-year-old son, an ace student and football player at Norcross High School.
At great financial risk, Jackson's family came to his aid, and since October he's been out of jail. More recently, he's been cleared to leave home, attend church and embark on job searches.
But those freedoms could soon expire.
Jackson, 38, is expected to plead guilty next month to a single count of cocaine trafficking in federal court. His attorney, Jerry Froelich, said a deal has been reached with federal prosecutors, and other charges of drug trafficking and money laundering are expected to be dismissed.
Upon Jackson's arrest, authorities said he faced a minimum of 10 years in federal prison, where parole is not considered. Froelich said, despite the plea deal, it's too early to surmise what the sentence may actually be.
"Nothing's been finalized," said Froelich, a high-profile defense lawyer with a resume of representing NFL players and government officials. "We're still dotting I's and crossing T's."
Officials with the U.S. Attorney's Office's North District of Georgia said Jackson's plea hearing is set for the morning of Feb. 1 before Judge Charles Pannell Jr. They declined to discuss the case further until after the plea.
Jackson spent two months in a Lovejoy jail, used as a holding facility for federal defendants, before he was granted a $600,000 bond and restricted to house arrest in October.
Court records show that three homes -- including a paid-off $156,700 property in Atlanta jointly owned by Jackson's mother and uncle -- were used as bond security. Two other women pledged homes in Atlanta and Ellenwood, valued at $130,700 and $235,000, respectively.
Court records make no mention of the women's relationship to Jackson, and Froelich declined to disclose it.
In August, Jackson turned himself in at the Norcross Police Department, and public sympathy for him shifted to spite. Authorities called him a major player in a drug-trafficking ring that spread across metro Atlanta, and he was indicted alongside eight other men. Twenty-seven phones were tapped and hundreds of hours of surveillance conducted during an operation that had begun about a year before Jackson's son was slain, authorities said.
It's alleged that Jackson and others, including his "right-hand man" Darren Dunlap, had acted as distributors, brokers and couriers for Mexican traffickers. Authorities seized eight kilograms of cocaine, 75 kilograms of marijuana and $800,000 in the facet of the investigation that allegedly involved Jackson.
Dunlap was the only suspect not apprehended in the takedown. Court records show he was arrested earlier this month in connection with Jackson's case.
At Froelich's request, U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan Baverman changed Jackson's bond status last week from home incarceration to home detention, allowing Jackson to leave the residence for church and medical reasons and to seek employment.
Froelich, who until recently had been working a federal case in Tampa, said he was unsure if his client was able to find work. Otherwise, "he's doing fine," Froelich said.
The attorney wouldn't say whom Jackson has been living with since October.
"I prefer not to say, for a lot of reasons," he said.
Jackson's background was in building, and he portrayed himself as the head of a successful residential and commercial construction business. He lived with his girlfriend of 18 years and their children in a $380,000 tri-story home, built with his own hands on a quiet street near downtown Norcross.
On Feb. 2, 2012, a robbery crew comprised of men from across metro Atlanta allegedly came to the Jackson residence, looking for a rumored $1 million and 50 kilograms of cocaine in the home. When cut for street sales, that much cocaine could fetch $5 million.
Jackson's son, Nicolas Jackson II, was home with his older sister. At least four members of the crew stormed the basement, where the teen rushed to barricade himself behind his bedroom door. At least six shots were fired into the door, killing the younger Jackson at the scene, authorities said.
The killing was the city's first in more than two years.
An officer spotted the crew of six fleeing the Jacksons' neighborhood in a rented van; each was arrested and charged with burglary and murder. A seventh man was booked later, but police don't believe he was at the home.
The would-be getaway van was allegedly filled with ski masks, latex gloves, duct tape and handguns. Also in the van: More than $19,000, tucked in a black bag and stored in a compartment.
Mike Morrison, the Gwinnett Assistant District Attorney prosecuting the murder suspects, has said there's no evidence that bag of money came from Jackson's basement.
All seven suspects are awaiting trial in Gwinnett, Morrison said.
An award for excellent students at Hopewell Christian Academy, where the younger Jackson graduated atop his eighth-grade class, bears his name.