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Jury Begins Deliberations On Woman Accused in Daughter’s Suicide

October 28, 1987

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) _ The case of a woman accused of driving her daughter to suicide by making her work as a nude dancer went to the jury Wednesday after a prosecutor called her a ″master manipulator″ and her lawyer called her ″a poor woman all alone.″

The Broward County Circuit Court jury got the case of Theresa Jackson, 40, after 10 1/2 days of testimony. Mrs. Jackson, believed to be the first mother criminally charged in connection with the suicide of a child, faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted of child abuse, procuring a sexual performance by a child and forgery.

The jury deliberated three hours but retired without reaching a verdict on Wednesday.

″It’s not just Theresa that’s on trial,″ defense attorney Kenneth Whitman said in closing arguments. ″It’s every parent in America.″

Kathleen Kearney, an assistant state attorney, argued throughout the trial that Mrs. Jackson mentally abused 17-year-old Tina Mancini by forcing her to dance nude.

″She used a mother’s influence,″ Ms. Kearney told jurors as Mrs. Jackson, who had cried at times during the trial, watched calmly. ″Terry got her the job. Terry drove her back and forth. Terry sat there and watched her do that job.

″Does a mother as a human being go and watch a child take her clothes off for men ... and then take that money and use it?″ Ms. Kearney asked.

Whitman has contended his client is an emotionally and mentally disturbed woman, victimized herself in childhood, who was unable to control a rebellious, headstrong teen-ager. In testimony this week, she discussed the possibility of being possessed, exorcism and seeing the ghost of her dog.

″We have a girl 17 1/2 year old that did as she pleased,″ Whitman said in his closing statement Wednesday. ″Theresa was blinded by her own mental afflictions, her own problems. She has suffered as much as any mother can suffer.″

Whitman also argued that Miss Mancini’s dancing wasn’t sexual in nature.

But Ms. Kearney disagreed. ″They’re making money based on how much they take off their bodies,″ she said.

During the morning, John Spencer, a court-appointed psychologist who interviewed and tested Mrs. Jackson two weeks before the trial began, testified as the final defense rebuttal witness.

Spencer testified that when he examined Mrs. Jackson, ″I found that she was in good reality contact. ... I found no evidence of gross psychotic processes.″

Psychiatrists and psychologists who treated Mrs. Jackson in the late 1970s and in 1986 have offered differing opinions on her personality, from a ″schizo-type personality disorder″ to a ″histrionic personality disorder.″

Spencer described psychological diagnoses as a form o shorthand that mental health professionals use to communicate with one another. He said the differing opinions could be explained by the fable of three wise blind men describing an elephant.

″It depends on what part of the elephant we’re looking at,″ he said.

Miss Mancini killed herself with her mother’s pistol on March 24, 1986, three months after the high school dropout had started to work as a nude dancer.

Witnesses for the prosecution included Mrs. Jackson’s elder son and father, whose reports to police led to the charges against her; Miss Mancini’s best friend; a stripper who briefly worked with the teen-ager; and a Harvard psychiatrist who provided a ″psychological autopsy.″

The controversial testimony of Dr. Douglas Jacobs, who based his retrospective analysis of Miss Mancini’s death on records Ms. Kearney provided him, identified the exploitive relationship between the girl and her mother as a significant contributing factor in Miss Mancini’s suicide.

The defense called Mrs. Jackson’s best friend; her youngest child, Miss Mancini’s half-brother, whose father has since undergone a sex change operation; and psychiatrists and psychologists who had treated Mrs. Jackson.

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