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Even With a Suspect in Custody, a String of Church Fires Remains Confounding 

Page 5 of 6

By the time he was 35, David Jackson had established himself as a "persistent" criminal, with a list of adult convictions stretching back more than half of his life. He began racking them up in 1998 when he was convicted of two counts of stolen property. His record also includes unlawful use of a weapon in 1999, tampering in 2000, assault in 2008 and a hat trick of selling drugs, assault and resisting arrest in 2009.

More recently, Jackson, who stands five-foot-eight and weighs 200 pounds, was caught throwing rocks through the windows of the Crocodile Lounge on Goodfellow Boulevard in 2014. He resisted arrest when the cops came for him, according to court records. A judge ordered him to serve a 120-day "shock" sentence, followed by four years of probation.

Woven between the indictments and sentencing reports are signs of a sick mind. Over the years, judges have repeatedly ordered him to submit to psychological examinations.

"Defendant to undergo mental health evaluation ... and follow any treatment assigned thereafter by his probation officer," reads a decree from 2009.

click to enlarge Arson suspect David Jackson.
  • Arson suspect David Jackson.

On October 24, two days after the seventh and final fire, Jackson's mother became frightened enough of him to call 911. Shortly after 11 p.m. that Saturday, Linda Jackson told a county dispatcher she smelled a "strong odor of gas" at her house on Wilborn Drive.

"Believes it might be related to her 35 yr old schizophrenic son David Jackson who threatened to harm her, was at the house approx 15 min ago," the incident report from that night says.

She gave police officers a description of what he was driving. It was a silver Lincoln Continental with a black driver's side door — a two-tone, older-model sedan.

Jackson had in recent months lived farther north in the Glasgow Village. His adopted neighborhood in the 200 block of Presley Drive is full of nicely maintained one-story houses with lawns mowed to golf-course lengths. The house where Jackson lived was the exception. Neighbors say it's hard to tell who lives there, because cars and people come and go all day and night. Jackson was just one face among many.

"I don't mess with them," says 53-year-old neighbor Marlene Holloway. "I wish they were gone."

Residents began to notice a different type of visitor late last week. A number of sedans started to park along their street, staying for hours at a time even though no one got out. The occupants were hard to see behind the deeply tinted windows. Neighbors assumed they were cops but weren't sure why they were there.

Then came news of Jackson's arrest.

Three weeks after the first fire at Bethel, law-enforcement officers quietly took their suspect into custody on Thursday, October 29. They found a partially full gas can in his car along with an empty Thermos that still had the whiff of fuel.

Jackson stared placidly at the camera in his booking photo, almost disappearing behind his ominous tattoos. A judge set bond at $75,000.

Dotson — flanked by city leaders, fire officials, cops, federal agents and even an accelerant-sniffing labrador named Chloe — announced the arrest during a crowded news conference last Friday. Prosecutors had charged Jackson in two of the fires, alleging footage from near New Life showed his car. Forensic evidence tied him to the sixth fire at Ebenezer, Dotson explained. Lab tests confirmed the accelerant used on both churches was gasoline.

The first question a reporter asked was the same question that ran through the mind of Bethel's Thomas on October 8: Why would someone burn a church?

"We're still trying to understand that," Dotson said. "We've talked to ATF. We've talked to their profilers. Is there a federal nexus? Is it a hate crime? Is it not? We're still trying to understand that."

People inside Jackson's home on Presley Drive refuse to open the door when reporters arrive. Six miles south, the curtains are drawn tight across the windows of his mother's house on Wilborn Drive.

In the days that follow his arrest, Linda Jackson has little to say about her troubled son. Approached outside for comment, she just waves away a question and walks slowly toward her door. But she stops for a moment when asked if her son's mental illness is to blame.

"That's it," she says softly.

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