Cecil Lavon Jackson Jr. of Mobile has been charged in rape that occurred the evening of Fat Tuesday in Mobile, Ala. The victim, a severely autistic woman, was left wandering the streets unsupervised late on Mardi Gras day and later was found downtown, naked and unable to communicate details of the attack. (MCSO)
By AL.COM, By Lawrence Specker | [email protected]
The case was notorious: On Ash Wednesday 2017 an autistic woman was found naked near Bienville Square, the victim of a rape that occurred after a lapse in supervision left her wandering the streets alone in the final hours of Mardi Gras.
Almost two full years later, a lucky break in the case has resulted in a man being charged in a crime that Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich has called “a horrible, horrible thing.”
The details that emerged after the woman’s family filed a civil lawsuit were disturbing. An attorney said the victim, then 25, suffered Phelan-McDermid Syndrome, was unable to communicate verbally and required one-on-one care. She’d been placed in a group home for full-time care; according to the suit, caregivers took her to a downtown hotel on Mardi Gras day, then left her untended that evening.
DNA evidence was collected in a rape kit during her treatment, but her autism made her unable to describe what had happened to her. Her assailant remained unknown.
In October, police arrested Cecil Lavon Jackson Jr., 43, on a felony charge of 1st degree sexual abuse and misdemeanor 3rd degree assault, after another man complained Jackson has subjected him “to sexual contact by forcible compulsion.”
Authorities later decided not to pursue that charge. Lt. Matthew James, head of the Mobile Police Department’ Special Victims Unit, said problems with the victim’s account undermined it. However, because of the nature of the charge, a DNA sample had been taken from Jackson as he was booked. That was sent off for testing. Jackson remained in jail on the assault charge.
Word that the sample matched on file from the 2017 case came back to the lead investigator on that incident, Det. Glenn Barton, in November. Barton had since moved to the homicide unit, but James said he was quick to follow up.
“He called me because he’d worked that case from beginning to end,” James said. Barton went to the jail to interview Jackson the same day, James said, and on Nov. 30 new charges of 1st degree rape and sodomy were filed. Bond was set at $100,000 on each. The charges were bound over to a grand jury in early January.
According to court records, Jackson entered a guilty plea on the October assault charge on Jan. 9 and was sentenced to 120 days in jail, with credit for 85 already served. On Jan. 18 the district attorney’s office reported that he had been indicted on both the newer charges.
“It just goes to show you the importance of DNA in these cases, even when we don’t have a victim who can tell us what happened,” said James.
It’s unclear when Jackson will appear in court to respond to the new charges. Meanwhile, the civil suit filed by the victim’s family has proceeded, growing increasingly complex.
Defendants include Rodney and Shetecia Chastang, operators of the Agape House group home where the victim resided; Volunteers of America Southeast, Inc.; Volunteers of America, Alabama, Inc.; Altapointe Health Systems; and several companies affiliated with the Candlewood Suites Hotel where caregivers had brought the victim. Broadly it alleges that caregivers failed to provide adequate oversight, that others failed to provide help to a person who obviously was unable to care for herself, and that some parties attempted to cover up their role in the breakdown of supervision.
It also presents a claim that the Chastangs fraudently transferred property in an attempt to protect assets from a potential verdict. The Chastangs and other defendants have denied wrongdoing. Among other arguments in the Agape House response to the complaint is one that “This Defendant states that the injuries and damages made the basis of this Complaint were caused by an intervening criminal act by a nonparty, and this Defendant is neither responsible for nor had control over the nonparty.”
Jackson has now been accused of being that nonparty, but faces trial on a timetable that has not yet been determined. A judge ordered parties in the civil suit to go into mediation on Dec. 13; a status review is set for Feb. 1. That hearing may allow for discussion of what impact, if any, the criminal charges may have in the civil suit.