Jackson returns to court

On trial for murder of Thomasville native Joshua Sweitzer
Jun. 12, 2013 @ 05:30 PM

 Keith Lauchon Jackson was back in court June 11 under heavy guard after trying to escape on the first day of his murder trial.

He was escorted into the courtroom in a wheelchair with his hands and legs shackled, accompanied by five bailiffs and a K-9 officer.

The bailiff had to physically pick him up to place him in the defendant’s chair.

Jackson is charged with first-degree murder and faces life without parole in the death of 21-year-old Thomasville-native Joshua Sweitzer.

The trial got back underway despite Jackson’s June 9 escape from Guilford County sheriff’s custody while being returned to the courtroom. He ran into a stairwell, jumped about 20 feet and bolted through the courthouse parking lot before he was recaptured.

Jackson’s attorney Robert Sharpe objected to the increased restraints and security, stating that despite Monday’s escape attempt, they were unnecessary.

“There was no escape from the courtroom itself, and no improper conduct in the courtroom itself,” Sharpe said.

The murder trial proceeded as planned despite attempts from Sharpe to have Superior Court Judge John O. “Joe” Craig III consider a mistrial due to the amount of media coverage that Jackson’s attempted escape caused.

“My concern is that the jurors may have been tainted by the press coverage,” Sharpe told the court. He then presented various media clips to the clerk. “What I would like to say is that (Monday) was unusual, and we recognize that. However, we are expecting due process and a fair and impartial jury.”

The judge also denied Sharpe’s request for a 24-hour delay to re-examine defense tactics and to question the jurors, although four jurors admitted to seeing some media headlines during lunch.

Jackson sat quietly as the trial continued with prosecutors presenting testimony from High Point Police Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation.

He currently is serving a 54-year federal prison sentence for his role in a string of what prosecutors termed gang-related armed robberies of stores in High Point and Davidson County in 2007 and 2008.

He is alleged to have shot Sweitzer, a clerk working at the Lucky Mart on E. Fairfield Road, in the head during a robbery at the store on Halloween night in 2007.

The prosecution also presented testimony from Jackson’s accomplice Ronnie Covington.

Covington testified that on the night of Oct. 31, 2007, he drove the black Ford Explorer that was used in the attempted robbery of the Lucky Mart Store.

According to Covington, he went into the store to buy a cigar and scout out the place before coming back out and meeting with Jackson.

It was at that point that he and Jackson went into the store and attempted to rob the cashier. A shot was fired, but Covington said that he was not looking in that direction at the time. He testified that he ran off after that, but saw Jackson hide the .38 revolver used underneath a car.

No money was obtained from the Lucky Mart robbery.

He also testified that he, Jackson and other friends continued to rob convenience stores until they were arrested on Jan. 5, 2008.

Covington currently is serving 21 years for armed robbery in a federal prison in West Virginia. He has a plea bargain on the table with the district attorney that would allow him to plead guilty to second-degree murder.

Matthew Christopher Savoy and Marcel Orlando West, two men also involved in the string of armed robberies, pleaded guilty in 2008 to conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery, and carrying and using, by discharging, a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. Thomasville Police Department joined the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, High Point Police Department, Davidson County Sheriff’s Office and Lexington Police Department in the investigation of the 10-robbery crime spree along the Business 85/Highway 29/70 corridor. The robberies occurred between Dec. 12, 2007, and Jan. 3, 2008.

Following their arrest, all four men admitted to being members of the CRIPS street gang. Jackson told authorities he was the leader and the other three men committed the crimes to gain his favor and earn status in the gang.

Sweitzer, whose uncle owned the Lucky Mart, wanted to be a High Point police officer and had applied to the force before he was murdered.