A series of “terrible mistakes” have taken an Aiken mother from dreams of being an attorney to the wrong side of the criminal divide.
Christie Jackson pleaded guilty on Monday to her part in an armed robbery of a Whiskey Road jewelry store, where the store owner and the robber suffered gunshot wounds.
“You have made a terrible mistake, but unfortunately this involved handguns, shootouts, people getting shot... it’s a major mistake,” Judge Doyet “Jack” Early said.
Jackson, 30, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on a charge of accessory before the fact of an armed robbery, where her partner dressed in drag in a failed attempt to disguise himself when attacking Porky Bradberry’s jewelry store. In September of 2011, her partner, Dominique Lemond Fortenberry, received a 30-year sentence for three counts of attempted murder, one count of attempted armed robbery and one count of discharging a weapon into an occupied vehicle on charges related to this incident and another.
However, it was the defendant’s fall that stunned the courtroom more than the violent crime.
Jackson “baffled” Early and her attorney, former Second Circuit Solicitor Bob Harte. Early described the defendant as having the “best parental background you can get” as well as access to education and opportunities, which is uncommon for a defendant in his courtroom.
Jackson is the daughter of a 35-year veteran of the Aiken County school system, Clarence Jackson. She graduated with honors from South Aiken High School at 16, graduated Clark Atlanta University pre-law and later scored what Early described as a “very respectable” score on her Law School Admission Test. She had also worked and was trained as a manager at Target, Walmart and JC Penney stores.
“I’m just baffled at how she went from being a bright person, hard-working person with a good education to this situation,” said Harte of his client.
According to testimony at Monday’s lengthy hearing, then JC Penney assistant manager Jackson became involved with Fortenberry, a seasonal employee. After Jackson was let go from her position, the pair came to Aiken and Jackson’s poor choices accelerated.
“She was knee-deep in this crime, and she was as involved and as culpable as Mr. Fortenberry,” Solicitor Strom Thurmond Jr. said.
According to Thurmond, Jackson was no innocent party. She cased a bank the two had also planned to rob earlier that day and then later the jewelry store. She had lied to law enforcement, while Fortenberry gave a full account of the facts. She provided the getaway vehicle and drove it. She provided the disguise for Fortenberry, and she hid a pistol after the robbery. Thurmond described her involvement in all of these matters and, at the end the hearing had to be delayed as Jackson broke down.
At Fortenberry’s plea hearing in September, Thurmond said that Fortenberry and Jackson acted in concert, “almost in a Bonnie-and-Clyde type of relationship.”
The crime took place on Sept. 12, 2011, at Bradberry’s jewelry store. Fortenberry entered the store wearing a pink and black sundress and a wig. Thurmond said Fortenberry presented a piece of jewelry to sell to create a distraction to get the drawer open, according to Thurmond.
When Bradberry’s son went to the back of the store to get cash to complete the transaction, Fortenberry pulled a gun from the purse and demanded money, Thurmond said. When Fortenberry pointed the gun at Bradberry’s son and told him to lay on the ground, Bradberry pulled a .22 caliber pistol from his hip and shot Fortenberry once in the face.
Fortenberry repeatedly fired back at Bradberry, with one bullet striking him in the arm. He then fled the scene with Jackson, who was waiting in a car behind the store.
The two were later arrested at a hospital in Augusta, where Jackson told investigators that Fortenberry was shot during an altercation at an Augusta park.