In the months after a Collierville teen killed an elderly couple in a traffic accident, he went on to rack up three other traffic stops, including two for speeding and two that involved alcohol.
Court records show the teen had a history of marijuana and alcohol use and a penchant for excessive speed in expensive cars.
Parker Jackson, 19, was eventually convicted in the Oct. 4, 2017 collision that claimed the lives of Gerry and John Longworth, but he will only serve nine months in jail.
Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Bobby Carter suspended all but nine months of Jackson’s sentence. The teen, who is white, will lose his driving privileges and be on probation for 10 years.
Jackson’s sentence comes in the middle of a national debate about a criminal justice that leans lenient for white defendants but is punitive and cruel to defendants of color. A 2017 U.S. Sentencing Commission report of federal prisoners found black male defendants received sentences that were 19 percent longer compared with similarly situated white male defendants.
Successfully completing probation, however, could prove difficult for Jackson, given his troubled past.
In 2016 in rural Texas, Jackson was 17 years old and behind the wheel of a 2015 BMW I8, which has a list price of more than $120,000.
The Texas Highway Patrol clocked him doing 107 miles per hour in a 65 mile per hour zone. He got a ticket for driving more than 10 percent over the speed limit and driving on a learner’s permit.
The next year, Jackson was speeding again, this time in Collierville.
He was doing 72 in a 40 mph zone on Poplar Avenue when he ran a red light.
His GMC Sierra struck a car carrying Gerry and John Longworth. They were killed instantly. The couple had been married 54 years.
In the months after the fatal accident, Jackson didn’t stop speeding. Between December 2017 and March 2018, he was involved in three more traffic stops in Collierville, including two for speeding and two that involved alcohol, according to court records.
It was only after the third traffic stop in March that Jackson was indicted on two counts of vehicular homicide and one count of aggravated assault in connection with the injuries sustained by Jackson’s passenger. In December, a jury convicted him on all three charges.
Vehicular homicide is a class C felony, which carries a sentence of three to 15 years, but the jury’s foreman, Melvyn Tuggle, didn’t think Jackson would get the maximum sentence.
“I would think six would be appropriate,” Tuggle said. What Jackson got is “like a slap on the wrist for killing two people.”
Judge Carter did not return a phone call or email seeking comment, but the Shelby County District Attorney’s office indicated the DA did not agree with the judge’s ruling.
“We opposed probation and diversion, as did the victims’ family,” a spokesperson for the DA’s office said.
The only son of the victims, Gerry and John Longworth, declined to talk about the trial, Jackson or the sentence.
“We’ve allowed the process to play itself out,” said John Longworth Jr. by phone earlier this week. He is a pastor at Germantown Baptist Church, where his parents were members. The “love and support from family and friends” plus the family’s faith has helped sustain them since the accident, he said.
Asked what Bible verse gives him comfort, Longworth Jr. said there were several, including Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
Court records detail Jackson’s short but checkered driving record and a history of marijuana and alcohol use.
In a sentencing report submitted in January, Jackson said he dropped out of a home-school program after the 11th grade. His alcohol and marijuana use started when he was 16. He said he has learning disability and had struggled with depression. His relationship with his mother, who lives in Olive Branch was solid, but he didn’t have one with his father.
Jackson said he hadn’t had any alcohol since mid-2017. In August 2018, he spent two weeks in Recovery Ranch, a men’s sober living center in Middle Tennessee. In December 2018, after his conviction, he tested negative for cocaine, opiates, alcohol and other addictive substances.
Other records included details about the three Collierville traffic stops Jackson was involved in after he killed the Longworths.
The first was on Dec. 21, 2017, two and a half months after the fatal accident.
Jackson was a passenger in a truck driven by James Kelley of Texas.
A Collierville police officer saw Kelley spin the trucks’ tires and “fish tail” as it left the Wal-Mart parking lot. An officer stopped Kelley, and in the truck bed was a cooler “that had approx. 12 unopened Michelob Light cans,” according to a Collierville Police Department memo with the subject line: Parker Jackson Interaction.
“We also located an opened bottle of whiskey in the truck under the back seat,” officer Tyler Williams wrote.
Neither Williams nor officer Michael Magnuson, the other officer on the scene, “were able to observe any signs of intoxication and did not smell any alcoholic beverage on either occupants’ breath.”
Tennessee law says: “Drivers shall not consume or possess an open container of an alcoholic beverage or beer while operating a motor vehicle in Tennessee.”
Kelley and Jackson were allowed to dump the alcohol in the parking lot, and Kelley received a ticket for “caution to be exercised.”
The second stop came 10 days later. On New Year’s Day 2018, Jackson was stopped doing 50 in a 30 mph zone. He received a ticket for speeding and for driving on an expired license. He was ordered to pay a $50 fine.
Exactly two months later, on March 1, Jackson was stopped again for doing 40 in a 20 mph zone. This time, he had a fake ID, and there was, again, alcohol in the car.
“It appeared to officers that an alcoholic beverage had been poured out in the back seat of the vehicle the defendant was driving,” reads the state’s motion to change Jackson’s bail.
“The defendant was also in possession of a state identification card bearing his photograph, but a different name and birthdate.” The fake ID made Jackson, then 18, more than 21 years old.
Police arrested Jackson on the vehicular homicide warrant but did not cite him for the traffic violations.
The jury heard none of these details during the two-and-a-half day trial.
The prosecution put seven witnesses on the stand, Tuggle recalled, including an accident reconstruction expert, a “black box” expert and several people who saw the collision.
The Longworths were traveling east on Poplar in a Lexus sedan when they stopped at the intersection at Bray Station to turn left.
The light turned red, but Jackson, who was traveling west on Poplar, barreled through the intersection, nearly cutting the Longworths’ car in two.
“Everybody who was on the scene testified that the driver of the pick-up truck, who was Parker Jackson, actually accelerated when the light was red and these people had no chance,” said Tuggle, a retired insurance executive who used to investigate car accidents.
“Everybody who testified had a different description of the vehicle … and that was understandable when they showed us the picture because the vehicle was so damaged, you couldn’t tell what the vehicle was.”
Tuggle was struck by Jackson’s demeanor during the trial: “It was just how he had a smirk, how he was whispering to his attorney, how he would smile at what some people said, it was like he wasn’t taking the whole thing seriously,” he said. “The only time he showed any emotion was when they showed the photos of the dead bodies.”
Jackson’s attorney had just one witness: Andrew Walt, the passenger in Jackson’s truck who was injured in the accident. “His answer to everything was ‘I don’t remember,’ so he was a wasted witness,” Tuggle said.
After two days of testimony, the jury — made up of nine black jurors and three white jurors — began deliberation.
Two of the woman jurors, who each had sons about Jackson’s age, worried aloud that a guilty verdict could ruin Jackson’s life, Tuggle said.
Jackson’s attorney, Kenneth Brashier, had tried to make the same argument.
“He tried to say as part of his closing argument that we would be ruining this person’s life and the judge stopped him and said they’re not going to determine his sentence,” Tuggle said.
Brashier did not respond to a request for comment.
After 90 minutes of discussion, the jury returned its verdict: Guilty on all three counts.
Jackson’s race didn’t come up in the jury’s discussion, Tuggle said, and he doesn’t think the judge took Jackson’s race into consideration, either.
After the verdict, the judge came to thank the jury for its service, Tuggle said.
And that’s when some the jurors’ suspicions about Jackson’s past were confirmed.
“The judge told us how [Jackson] was always in trouble in Collierville and he was basically a spoiled kid,” Tuggle said.
Carter said Jackson had had drug-related run-ins with Collierville police, Tuggle recalled, “but he didn’t say whether it was selling drugs or using drugs … and he mentioned that [Jackson] was driving a $70,000 pickup truck.”
John Longworth Jr. said his parents were “my heroes in every sense of the word.”
Both natives of Corbin, Kentucky, John Longworth and Geraldine “Gerry” Reid Longworth were married in 1963. John Longworth served in the U.S. Navy for 50 years, and Gerry Longworth was “a supportive military spouse who traveled all over the nation as John served our country.” She also had a career at the Navy Exchange and later Regions Mortgage, the obituary said.
They were both 75; Gerry Longworth was killed a day after her 75th birthday.
The suggestion that Jackson’s youth should spare him doesn’t resonate with Tuggle. “How long would they have lived if this hadn’t happened? What about their life?”
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