Dawn Jackson is one of four inmates who are the focus of Kim Kardashian West’s new documentary The Justice Project, where the reality TV star works with Cut50, a bipartisan organization that focuses on cutting mass incarceration.
Kardashian West became interested in criminal justice reform when she heard about the case of Alice Marie Johnson, a great-grandmother serving a life sentence as a first-time nonviolent offender. She eventually secured clemency for Johnson, but the case opened Kardashian West’s eyes to how many people in the system have stories just like Johnson’s.
Jackson is one of those people. Her story is profiled first in the documentary and here’s what you need to know about the crime she committed and why Kardashian West feels she should have her sentence reduced.
1. Jackson Stabbed Her Step-Grandfather in 1999
According to a New York Times article, on March 26, 1999, Dawn Wilson (now Jackson), who was 27 at the time, was arrested and charged in the stabbing death of her stepgrandfather, Robert McBride, 69, of South River, New Jersey. Glen Berman, the then-prosecutor for Middlesex County, said McBride’s body was found March 24 in his bed at his home by his son, Kelvin. Authorities believed they also found the murder weapon; it was found in a wooded median about a block from the victim’s house.
According to an Associated Press article from the trial, Jackson stabbed McBride 28 times because he allegedly refused to give her money, then stole hundreds of dollars from his house to use to buy drugs.
However, the reason Kardashian West and Cut50 took on Jackson’s case is that she maintains McBride had been molesting and raping her since she was five years old. When he tried to assault her on the day of his death, she defended herself and killed him. But none of this was brought up during her trial.
2. McBride Was the Father of NFL Player Kenny Jackson
McBride was the former partner of Dawn Jackson’s grandmother, Sarah Jackson. According to the Associated Press, McBride and Sarah were the parents to former Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Kenny Jackson. Jackson was the Eagles’ top draft pick in 1984 after graduating from Penn State University. He played eight seasons in the NFL, for the Eagles and later the Houston Oilers.
After retiring, Jackson served as Penn State’s wide receiver coach from 1993 to 2000, then he was an assistant coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2001 to 2003. He is currently a sideline reporter for the Big Ten Network.
At the time of Dawn’s arraignment, the New Jersey News Tribune recalled a 1989 interview with Kenny where he spoke about his parents, Sarah and Robert.
“I had a mom and dad there every day when I came home from practice. They understood the importance of education,” said Kenny. “My mom and dad are extraordinary. They know what life is about.”
3. Jackson Was Sentenced to 30 years
In August 1999, Jackson pleaded guilty to felony murder, telling Judge Barnett Hoffman of Superior Court that she bought cocaine with the money she stole from McBride. Prosecutors agreed to recommend a prison term of 30 years in exchange for a guilty plea.
On October 19, 1999, Jackson was sentenced to 30 years in state prison with no possibility for parole. At the sentencing, Jackson’s mother Glenda asked for forgiveness for her daughter’s crimes, according to a court report by the New Jersey News Tribune.
“I know this. God is forgiving and loving. If he can forgive, we can too,” said Glenda, who also asked the judge to “please get my daughter help so she will be OK. We not only lost him, we lost my daughter as well.”
4. Jackson Has Seven Children Who Grew Up Without a Mother
In the documentary, several of Jackson’s children talk about how hard it was to grow up with a mother in prison, especially once they learned more about her horrific childhood.
“It was hard growing up, it was hard going to school every day realizing I didn’t have my mom with me. It was hard hearing stories about how my mom was. I really thought my mom was this bad person, but as I got older there was more insight on why [she did what she did],” says daughter Loreale Wilson.
Son Shawn adds, “It was tough to be a boy and not have your mom. It took everything out of me. That’s stuff builds in your heart, it turns you into a different person.”
5. But Jackson Struggled Her Whole Life With Depression and Drug Use Stemming From Sexual Abuse
What didn’t come out during the trial was that Jackson said McBride raped her as a child and over the course of her childhood and adolescence, she was molested by five different adult men. This is what drew Kardashian West to Jackson’s case. Initially, Kardashian West didn’t want to advocate for violent offenders, but Jackson’s story was “so harrowing” that she had to try to help her.
“She had been raped by this man as a child and had to get into drugs to cope and he goes to see him and he tries to sexually assault her and that was her breaking point,” says Kardashian West in the documentary. “She overdosed, she slit her wrists … from a young age, her story has been so harrowing. I hope that we can find some help for her.”
Kardashian West adds, “I was really shocked to hear that a judge would sentence a young mother to life in prison, especially with all of her abuse history, and then to find out that none of her abuse history was even presented in her case was extremely frustrating … She committed a murder and that’s obviously such a tragedy, that a man lost his life. However, Dawn has spent 20 years of her life behind bars. It’s time now for the evidence to be heard and hopefully bring Dawn home again.”
“Eighty percent of [incarcerated] women self-report that they were molested or sexually assaulted prior to coming to prison. It speaks to the untreated trauma and what that can do,” says Jessica Jackson, co-founder of Cut50. “Our longterm goal for Dawn is freedom, whether that’s an appeal or clemency or both.”
As of the documentary’s broadcast, the attorneys are still working on getting Jackson’s sentence reduced.
Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project premieres Sunday, April 5 at 7 p.m. ET/PT on Oxygen.
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