Local News

Man Sentenced in 1987 Murder

Posted April 19, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— A Florida jury sentenced a fugitive-turned-minister to 14 years in prison yesterday for a murder committed 11 years ago.

Calvin Jackson was convicted of the murder of Toby Brown in Pinellas County. Witnesses said Brown made several racial slurs, and Jackson shot him.

Jackson then fled to Duplin County in southeastern North Carolina, where he married and became a minister, leading a quiet life.

Last October, his Wilson parishioners and friends were astonished to learn he was wanted on a murder charge. Dozens of people went to Florida to speak on his behalf.

They came almost 50 strong, members of his church congregation, to plead for mercy for one of their own. They came to speak on behalf the Jackson they know: Air Force veteran, college graduate, ordained minister, second-degree murderer.

At a hearing Friday that sometimes resembled a revival meeting and at others a modern version of "This is Your Life," more than a dozen faithful from St. Paul Church of Christ in Wilson, N.C., stood before Circuit Judge Tim Peters and told how Jackson put all his time, money and energy into helping others.

But across the aisle sat the widow of the man Jackson gunned down along U.S. 19 in Pinellas Park almost 11 years ago. She and her relatives said they had been unable to put the death of 31-year-old Toby Brown behind them during the more than 10 years Jackson spent hiding in North Carolina under the name of his brother, Curtis.

If Jackson had, indeed, found Christ and was not just preparing a defense for the day he got caught, then why did he not do the right thing and turn himself in, asked Brown's wife, Cindy.

"I am also a Christian, and I do believe in forgiveness. But I also believe in justice and punishment," the widow said. "But he continued to preach, teach and marry people under a lie. He was not Curtis Jackson.... Please don't let this man get out in only a few years."

When it was Jackson's turn to speak, he told of years of inner pain and struggle.

I'm more remorseful...than anyone in this courtroom could understand," Jackson said. "I have dreaded this moment of my life, but I'm glad it has come down to this moment because I have a chance to say I'm sorry."

Jackson, 33, pointed out that he had never been in trouble before killing Toby Brown, and has not been in trouble since. He said he considers himself an example of how someone who does something bad can turn his life around.

"I ask you for a second chance because I believe in my heart...some day, somehow, I can make others see," he told the judge.

When it came time to announce the sentence, Judge Peters stuck to the facts of the crime and did not speak of Jackson's more recent activities.

Toby Brown was shot from behind with a high-powered rifle at a range of 60 yards, but he also had taunted Jackson with racial slurs for hours and then fought with and bloodied Jackson's best friend, the judge said.

"That does not mean that the defendant could summarily execute Toby Brown because he was not a nice person that night," the judge said. "I think the jury could have found you guilty of first-degree murder. I don't think there is any doubt you are truly guilty of second-degree murder."

Jackson was sentenced to 14 years in prison, far longer than the minimum mandatory three-year term requested by defense lawyer Johnnie Trevena, somewhat shorter than the 17 or more years requested by Assistant State Attorney Michael Marr. The judge declined Marr's request that he bar Jackson from ever making money from book or movie deals.

Afterward, Cindy Brown said she was satisfied with the punishment. Jackson, who was allowed to hug, kiss and shake hands with everyone who came to support him, said he would use the time to save souls in prison.

"I have no anger in my heart whatsoever," Jackson said as he was surrounded by television cameras. "This is a new beginning. This is the unfolding of a new and prosperous life. I won't be behind bars forever." From Staff and Tampa Tribune reports