Adopted teen accused of rape

His mother wants the adoption dissolved, saying the state forced the relationship.

By COLLEEN JENKINS, Times Staff Writer
Published January 9, 2008

TAMPA - That 14-year-old Hershel Jackson is accused of raping a 66-year-old relative last month is an awful thing.

But his adoptive mother thought long ago that the boy wasn't quite right.

She says he grew angry and manipulative when he didn't get his way. He was arrested on a battery charge in August. And soon after Rhonda Gary-Jackson adopted him in 2001, she says he made clear that he didn't want to be part of her family.

"They forced us into a relationship he didn't want to be in," she said of the state on Tuesday.

Temple Terrace police arrested Hershel on Dec. 10. The eighth-grader had been home on his first weekend pass after many months in an inpatient psychiatric facility.

His mother said she left for about 20 minutes to go shopping. When she got back, Hershel was sitting at the kitchen table holding a knife.

She would later hear that he had punched the mentally incapacitated relative in her face before sexually battering her.

Gary-Jackson recalls how Hershel waved goodbye and wished the bruised and bleeding family member to "feel better" as they left for the hospital.

"No emotions whatsoever," she said. "No remorse."

Hershel was supposed to be arraigned in court Tuesday on charges that together carry a maximum of 65 years in prison: sexual battery on a mentally defective person, lewd and lascivious battery and lewd and lascivious molestation on an elderly person, and adult abuse.

The hearing got postponed because Gary-Jackson no longer wants to serve as his guardian.

Instead, she wants the adoption dissolved on the basis that social workers didn't fully disclose Hershel's mental health history. Gary-Jackson already failed once to convince a judge to undo the adoption.

Adoptive parents assume the same responsibilities as a biological parent, said Andy Ritter, the Department of Children and Families' spokesman in Tampa.

To break ties with an adopted child in Florida, a parent must legally abandon a child. That puts the parent at risk for being criminally investigated or not allowed to adopt again.

Gary-Jackson, 43, is a registered nurse. A documented finding of child abuse under her name in the state registry would ruin her career, said attorney Clay Oberhausen.

Oberhausen represents Gary-Jackson and the victim. Until spring, he was general counsel for Hillsborough Kids Inc., which handles adoptions for the county. The DCF handled adoptions at the time Hershel's went through.

DCF caseworkers were aware of Hershel's mental health issues, Oberhausen said. They recommended that he be committed for the highest level of treatment available, and Gary-Jackson agreed.

After his arrest, Hershel was held in juvenile detention. He moved to a county jail after being charged as an adult on Dec. 28.

But the damage is already done, says Gary-Jackson.