Accused can use abuse as defense

A murder defendant will claim she acted out of fear of two abusers, her co-defendant and the victim.

Published June 23, 2006

TAMPA - Money didn't drive Victoria Jackson to kill $20-million lottery winner Jeffrey Dampier Jr., her attorney said Wednesday.

It was repeated abuse that broke her down.

Authorities say Jackson and Nathaniel Jackson, her boyfriend of no relation, lured Dampier to their Brandon apartment in July to rob him.

But Victoria Jackson claims she also was having an affair with Dampier, her sister's husband. And abuse wrought by both Nathaniel Jackson and Dampier may explain why Victoria Jackson, 23, got mixed up in the deadly plan, her attorney said.

Over prosecutors' objections, a judge Thursday ruled Assistant Public Defender Kenneth Littman can present "battered spouse syndrome" as a defense when her first-degree murder case goes to trial this fall.

The gist of the argument is this: Jackson was forced to commit the criminal acts out of fear of her abusers, so she shouldn't take the fall.

Court documents filed by the defense don't shed much light on exactly what abuse Jackson endured, only that it "rendered her powerless in her relationship with men in general, and with co-defendant Nathaniel Jackson and homicide victim Jeffrey Dampier in particular."

Victoria Jackson and Nathaniel Jackson face charges of first-degree murder, armed kidnapping and armed carjacking. Authorities say they invited Dampier to their apartment July 25, 2005, then tied his wrists together and ordered him into his van at gunpoint.

As Nathaniel Jackson drove around southern Hillsborough County for half an hour, Victoria Jackson killed Dampier with a shot to the head, according to records.

Dampier, owner of Kassie's Gourmet Popcorn in Tampa's Channelside entertainment district, won a $20-million Illinois lottery in 1996.

When authorities found the Jacksons in Jacksonville, they had thousands of dollars believed to be Dampier's.

In court Thursday, prosecutor Jalal Harb said Victoria Jackson didn't act in self-defense.

On the contrary, he said, Jackson claimed she was romantically involved with Dampier, who paid for her apartment, food and education.

Littman argued that this was an issue for jurors to decide. Circuit Judge Ronald Ficarrotta agreed, and denied Harb's attempt to keep the battered spouse syndrome defense out of the trial.

Whether it sticks is debatable. Robert Batey, a criminal law professor at Stetson University College of Law, said battered spouse syndrome is actually part of a duress defense, which can't be used to excuse homicide under state law.

"It sounds like the state is right," Batey said.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at 813 226-3337 or cjenkins@sptimes.com.