What would drive a college student who had never been in trouble with the law before to murder his whole family?
Two and a half years earlier, Jackson, then 20, shot and killed his father, Jan Jackson, 61; mother Melissa Jackson, 68; and younger sister Sabrina Jackson, 19, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
A judge gave Jackson three consecutive life sentences with no possibility of parole on March 3, 2023.
Before he murdered his family, Jackson was an Eagle Scout who’d never been in legal trouble. He admitted to police he had been worried his father might kick him out because he was failing college. But how did this fear transform him into a cold-blooded killer?
The Day of the Crime
Jackson phoned 911 on the morning of June 15, 2021 to report that someone had broken into his house. He said he and a family member had been shot.
After police arrived, Jackson explained he’d been shot in the foot while struggling with an intruder, whom he described as a Black man wearing green shoes. The weapon he and this man had supposedly wrestled over was a Browning .22 caliber semi-automatic rifle that belonged to the Jackson family.
Officers saw Jackson’s father’s body lying on the floor when they entered the home. Police went on to discover the bodies of Jackson’s mother and sister in their respective bedrooms. Each victim had multiple bullet wounds.
Jackson was taken to a hospital for treatment. There, police questioned him for about four hours. They told Jackson they’d uncovered no evidence of someone approaching his house. They also didn’t believe that a random intruder who’d happened upon a rifle would spontaneously decide to commit murder.
Throughout Jackson’s hospital interrogation, and when he spoke to investigators at the police station that night, he insisted he had not harmed his family. But police weren’t convinced and Jackson was charged with the murders of his parents and sister.
The Case Against Andrew Jackson
During his trial, the defense emphasized that Jackson, even while in shock and having been given the painkiller fentanyl, had maintained his innocence while talking to police.
William Douglas Woody, a professor of psychological sciences at the University of Northern Colorado and the co-author of Understanding Police Interrogation: Confessions and Consequences, tells A&E True Crime, “People often assume you can look at someone’s behavior and separate liars from truth tellers, but we do not have good evidence of that.” The only way to uncover the truth of what someone tells police is to follow a case’s evidence, Woody says.
The evidence presented at Jackson’s trial convinced a jury that he was a killer.
Surveillance footage from the Jackson house and from a neighboring home showed nothing to back up Jackson’s story. A crime scene investigator testified that the two palm prints on the murder weapon belonged to Jackson.
The defense questioned the motion detection capabilities of the cameras at the Jackson house. Defense attorneys also noted that a third, low-quality print had been left on the murder weapon. No match was found for this print.
In closing arguments, the prosecutor stated that Jackson had never called for his mother or sister while on the line with 911 to check on them, arguing that was because he knew they were dead and not just injured. She also noted that blood spatter found near Jackson’s bed indicated he’d shot himself there, not where he claimed he encountered an intruder in a downstairs living room.
The prosecutor emphasized that a crime scene investigator had said the rifle would have required reloading during the murders. However, she noted that the Browning’s unusual reloading process made it unlikely a first-time user—like a random intruder— could have accomplished this, though people who lived in the house who had experience with the gun would have known the intricacies. During the trial there was testimony from an investigator with years of firearms training who had stated that the firearm was so unique to load they had to search for an online video tutorial to learn how to do so.
What Made Alexander Jackson Kill?
To become an Eagle Scout in 2017, Jackson had helped restore a house for low-income families. He played the flute in high school. He went on to enroll in college to study business.
“If [Jackson] was a psychopath, you would expect to see a long trail of evidence to that end…harming animals when he was a kid, or setting fires or breaking the law,” Dr. Rod Hoevet, a forensic and clinical psychologist who has not examined or spoken to Jackson, tells A&E True Crime. “It strikes me as incredibly unlikely that somebody [with psychopathy] could or would live a normal life, masking all of this underlying hostility and violence.”
People testified on Jackson’s behalf at his trial. His former Scout leader said he trusted Jackson to mentor younger kids. A friend described Jackson as never being violent.
“This is one of those situations [where] there are no risk factors,” Hoevet says. “The fact that he was an Eagle Scout and able to form friendships…are what I would call protective factors. There’s every reason in the world to believe this is a good kid who wouldn’t make a decision like this.”
When Jackson spoke to police at the hospital, he admitted he was struggling academically and feared his father would make him move out or get a job. At Jackson’s trial in January 2023, the prosecution said Jackson, who then had about $30 to his name, may have killed his family to avoid having to leave home..
“Maybe the idea of being kicked out of his parents’ house was terrifying, or infuriating,” Hoevet says. “I don’t know if that’s true. But [that reaction] certainly fits within two things: [at the age of 20] his brain is not fully developed yet, and [he’s in] this developmental phase of emerging adulthood, where he doesn’t socially or culturally feel ready to be on his own.”
Hoevet adds, “Just because somebody doesn’t have any risk factors doesn’t mean they won’t commit a crime.”