Judge rules on evidence in Jackson murder trial

Businessman Jeffrey Dampier Jr. was murdered three weeks after its accused that his sister-in-law Victoria Jackson, now being tried for his murder, conspired to break into his business safe. A jury, though, will not hear that evidence.

Published February 2, 2006

TAMPA - Three weeks before businessman Jeffrey Dampier Jr. was kidnapped and killed in July 2005, Kala Stewart tried to break into the safe at his Channelside popcorn shop.

She told a judge Thursday that Victoria Jackson, Dampier's sister-in-law who is now accused of his murder, gave her the combination.

And she said Nathaniel Jackson, Victoria Jackson's boyfriend who is also charged with Dampier's death, gave the order to enter Kassie's Gourmet Popcorn and take money from the safe.

But a jury will never hear about that July 4, 2005, incident - at least in Victoria Jackson's case. Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ronald Ficarrotta said it had no connection to the July 26, 2005, kidnapping, robbing and slaying of Dampier.

Kenn Littman, Victoria Jackson's attorney, told the judge there was no evidence that she even participated in the July 4 attempted robbery. She only gave Stewart, a friend to both Jacksons, the combination. She never told her to use it, he said. And Victoria Jackson never tried to open the safe herself.

"Nathaniel said to take money," Littman said.

The Jacksons had picked up Stewart from work, and the three went to Channelside for drinks. Victoria Jackson and Stewart went to the popcorn shop where they asked Dampier if Stewart could use the bathroom. Stewart took that opportunity to try to open the safe. But she said she couldn't get it to open.

Prosecutor Jalal Harb wanted to talk about that day during the trial to show the events on the day of Dampier's death were carefully thought out and planned because of an earlier, failed robbery attempt.

The Jacksons - who share the same last name but are not related - have different attorneys. Nathaniel Jackson's lawyer asked Thursday to be removed from his case. Ficarrotta will appoint a new one next week. At a later hearing, prosecutors will have a chance to argue that jurors should hear about the July 4 robbery attempt in Nathaniel Jackson's case.

As Stewart testified, Victoria Jackson stood next her attorney, hands and feet shackled and her eyes cast downward. Nathaniel Jackson sat on a nearby bench talking with an attorney and occasionally glancing toward her.

Both defendants have entered not guilty pleas. The prosecution has said it won't seek the death penalty in their cases.

Dampier, 39, who lived in FishHawk Ranch, was also a $20-million Illinois lottery winner. Investigators said that Victoria Jackson and Nathaniel Jackson forced him in a van, robbed him of thousands of dollars and beat him before shooting him to death. Authorities said they left him lifeless in his vehicle on a dead-end street in Seffner.

No trial date has been set.

- Kevin Graham can be reached at 813 226-3433 or kgraham@sptimes.com