KANSAS CITY — The system succeeded in keeping convicted rapist Bernard Jackson behind bars for 30 years.
But if new allegations against him prove true, the system also failed the public by letting Jackson out — twice.
The twice-convicted sex offender has been charged in four more sexual assaults and is being investigated in five others — all of them strikingly similar to those that sent him to prison in the first place.
“It’s distressing for victims to see someone like that get out, ruin people’s lives, get out and ruin more people’s lives,” said Palle Rilinger, the executive director of the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault.
Predicting future criminal behavior is an inexact science, but statistics tend to show that of all sex offenders, men like Jackson — who have been convicted multiple times of attacking strangers — are among the most likely to commit new sex crimes when they get out.
“Past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior,” said Jill Levenson, an associate professor and researcher at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.
When someone has been caught and punished not once, but twice, for the same behavior, that indicates he will not be deterred in the future by the same rules and sanctions, she said.
Such a person is very likely to continue to commit crimes, Levenson said.
The system in Missouri has undergone a number of changes since Jackson was prosecuted for attacks in the 1970s and 1980s. Nationally, society’s attitudes toward sex offenders and how they are punished and treated also have evolved.
That means if Jackson is convicted again, getting out of prison will be much tougher.
But could anything have been done in the past to keep him behind bars longer? Should he have been released at all?
For victims of sexual assault, going through the trauma of victimization and the criminal justice system only to have the system fail them is devastating, said one Kansas City-area woman who saw her attacker receive only a 30-day sentence.
“It’s like being raped over and over and over again,” she said.
In 1976, while still a teenager, Jackson attacked a woman in her Kansas City bedroom. Convicted of rape, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
He was let out after serving six years. Almost immediately, he began preying on new victims, authorities said Thursday when they filed new charges against Jackson in four 1980s assaults.
A fifth case, in March 1984, resulted in Jackson being charged with attempting to rape a woman after breaking into her Waldo-area home. Shortly after Jackson’s arrest, a judge lowered his bond, and Jackson promptly vanished.
News that a convicted rapist had served only six years and then was allowed to post a minimal bond after being accused of a new attack outraged the community. Plus, he had violated the conditions of his parole several times without consequence.
“A man who poses a real threat to society went free despite all the odds that he shouldn’t,” an editorial in The Kansas City Star declared. “How is it possible that a man with consistent violations of his parole was not back behind bars, as the law permits?”
It took eight months for the law to catch up with Jackson, who was arrested in December 1984 in Colorado.
If the case had gone to trial, Jackson could have been convicted as a persistent offender, which would have resulted in a minimum sentence of 30 years without parole. In other words, he still would be incarcerated today if he had been convicted as a persistent offender.
Of course, he also could have been acquitted.
In August 1985, on the day his trial was to start, Jackson reached a plea agreement with prosecutors that called for a sentence of 30 years with the possibility of parole. In exchange, prosecutors agreed to not pursue the persistent-offender motion.
The prosecutor who handled the case could not be reached for comment. The defense attorney declined to comment, although he said that it may have been the longest sentence he counseled a client to take as part of a plea bargain.
When considering plea agreements, each case is different and prosecutors have to assess the strength of their evidence, said Joe Bednar, a lawyer in private practice who formerly handled sex crimes cases in the Jackson County prosecutor’s office.
Bednar, who was not involved in the Jackson case, said it was very rare to have a defendant plead guilty as a persistent offender.
One factor in Jackson’s case that may have contributed to the plea agreement is noted in the court proceedings, when the judge talked about the evidence supporting the charge of attempted rape. According to the court documents, Jackson had dragged the woman toward a bedroom and she had heard a zipper unzip.
“You understand that at a trial you could be found not guilty of attempted forcible rape with that kind of evidence. You understand that?” the judge asked.
Jackson said he did, and later in the same hearing admitted he intended to rape the woman — an admission he would have been unlikely to make if he testified at trial.
Though Missouri authorities released Jackson after 24 years, that 30-year sentence for attempted rape and burglary — and the time he actually served — was remarkable for that period, lawyers and experts said.
“Oh yes, that was a very significant sentence for the time,” said Patricia Harrison, an assistant professor of law at St. Louis University and a former public defender in Kansas City.
Levenson agreed that for the 1980s, that would have been an impressive sentence anywhere in the country.
Jackson was sentenced well before the Missouri General Assembly passed a sweeping bill in 1994 that reformed and toughened the state’s sentencing procedures.
Read the full story at Kansas City.com