NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A U.S. Army major and his wife pleaded not guilty Thursday to federal charges alleging the couple abused their three foster children by withholding food and water, making the children eat red pepper and assaulting them to the point of breaking their bones.
Dressed in military uniform, John Jackson appeared with his wife Carolyn Jackson in federal court in Newark on 17 counts of endangerment, assault and conspiracy. A trial date was set for July 8, and each of the Jacksons was allowed to remain free on $250,000 bail.
Prosecutors say the alleged crimes took place in 2010 while the family was living at the Picatinny Arsenal in Rockaway Township. Both John and Carolyn Jackson have denied the charges.
The Mount Holly couple have three biological children and fostered three children they later adopted, according to the indictment. One of the foster children died in 2008. The couple were not charged with the child's death. They are accused of withholding food from the child, assaulting him or her and withholding care for a skin infection the child had.
Prosecutors say the alleged abuse was directed at the foster children. The couple allegedly told their three biological children they were "training" the foster children to behave and instructed the biological children not to tell anyone, according to the indictment.
The Jackson children are in the custody of New Jersey's Department of Children and Families, the U.S. attorney's office has said.
John Jackson did not speak during his court appearance but entered his plea of not guilty through his court-appointed attorney. Carolyn Jackson also had her attorney enter a not guilty plea on her behalf.
Each count carries a maximum possible prison sentence of 10 years upon conviction, according to the U.S. attorney's office.