Extortion Is Criminal, But So Is This Kind Of Child Abuse

Cosby and Jackson in 1991, CNN Photo

CNN Photo

The recent extortion trial and subsequent conviction of 22 year old Autumn Jackson by a New York Federal District Court, unfolded as a classic tragedy. A jury convicted Ms. Jackson of attempting to extort $40,000,000 from Bill Cosby, the famous television comic/actor/pitch-man. During the trial, Ms. Jackson claimed that she was “negotiating” with the man she believed to be her father.

Jackson and co-defendants, Jose Medina, 51, a former tennis instructor, and Boris Sabas, 42, a small business owner, are scheduled for sentencing by Judge Barbara Jones in October. When they are sentenced, Jackson could receive up to 12 years in prison and $750,000 in fines. Under federal sentencing guidelines, Judge Jones can impose a lesser sentence if she determines that there are mitigating or unusual circumstances in the case. There are many.

In a larger sense, this trial focuses attention on children growing up fatherless. Autumn Jackson grew up in a home without her father. However, she never thought of herself as fatherless. She grew up believing that she was the secret love-child of Mr. Cosby, because her mother, Shawn Upshaw, and grandmother told her the famous TV actor was her father. This belief exposes an emotional foundation for her actions that should help to mitigate her sentence.

However, there are additional reasons for mitigating her sentence. Mr. Cosby admitted to an adulterous relationship with Ms. Upshaw, but denies paternity. The court ruled during the trial that Mr. Cosby’s paternity was not relevant to the criminal charge of extortion. Initially, he did not volunteer for the DNA testing that could prove him the woman’s father. After the trial, Cosby submitted to testing, but in an interesting turn of events, both Ms. Jackson and her mother refused.

The fact that Mr. Cosby admitted to a sexual relationship with Ms. Jackson’s mother and maintained a financial relationship with her until Autumn finished college, is troublesome. The $100,000 he testified to giving Ms. Upshaw doesn’t bother me as much as the stereotype the case nourishes; making it appear that Mr. Cosby paid hush-money to protect his high-priced pitch-man image.

Paying money to protect one’s commercial interests under most circumstances can be prudent conduct. Nonetheless, it is wrong when paying money causes harm to an innocent third party. In this case, that third party was a child, Autumn Jackson.

The essence of the criminal case against Autumn Jackson is this. A very successful man has a secret adulterous relationship. The woman in the relationship has a child. The man denies paternity, yet pays a total of $100,000 to the child’s mother over the course of her childhood. The child grows up understanding from her mother that this man is her father. As an adult, the child makes a demented attempt to extort money from the man she believes to be her father.

Granted, Ms. Jackson’s attempt to extort $40,000,000 from Mr. Cosby is a crime, even if he is her father. For this crime, the jury properly convicted her. But, I think that the judge should look beyond these facts and consider the role others played in this tragedy.

It appears that Mr. Cosby left his paternity legally unchallenged, insofar as Autumn Jackson was concerned, until she became an adult. He did so while paying Ms. Jackson’s mother $100,000. The judge, in fairness to Ms. Jackson, should consider if Mr. Cosby’s payments to her mother, influenced her to name Jerald Jackson as father.

Traditionally, a child’s paternity is established at birth upon the mother’s testimony. Autumn’s mother named Jerald Jackson. His name appears on her birth certificate and he does not deny his paternity. However, she told her daughter that Mr. Cosby was her father. Alone, this action on her mother’s part bespeaks of horrendous child abuse and should be taken into consideration by the judge when imposing Ms. Jackson’s sentence.

There are no easy answers here, this case is not over. If the money Mr. Cosby gave Shawn Upshaw was payment to her for naming someone else as Autumn’s father, he may have committed a crime. It makes no difference whether tests prove him the father or not. Certainly, Ms. Upshaw convoluting her daughter’s feelings about her father, whoever he may be, should be a crime.

This tragedy is a public example of a pitiful story that is being played out in the lives of countless children. Children, like Autumn Jackson, who reach adulthood and can only define their life opportunities by their victimization.

Originally Published: 6 August 1997, Montgomery, Advertiser
© Copyright – 1997 – Major W. Cox and Montgomery Advertiser.


 Read excerpts from related news articles below.

No decision on Autumn Jackson blood test yet

July 30, 1997

NEW YORK (CNN) — The woman who claims to be the out-of-wedlock child of television celebrity Bill Cosby may agree to a paternity test, but her lawyer said that more legal consultations would be necessary to decide the matter.

Robert Baum, the lawyer for 22-year-old Autumn Jackson, said “no decision had been made” as to whether his client would submit to a paternity test.

“We’re concerned about the conditions,” he said, and added that Jackson would not participate in any tests until after her sentencing on October 22.

Jackson was convicted last week of trying to extort $40 million from Cosby by threatening to publicize her paternity claim.

Baum said he expected to resume consultations with Cosby’s attorney on Wednesday.

However, the lawyer for Jackson’s mother said Jackson would not submit to the test. Attorney Wanda Akin said on CNN’s Larry King Live on Tuesday that such a test was not in Autumn Jackson’s best interests.

‘Why didn’t he … take it earlier?’

Visit CNN’s web site at http://www.cnn.com/US/9707/30/cosby.paternity/ to hear Autumn Jackson’s mother, Shawn Upshaw, talks about the paternity test on CNN’s “Larry King Live”

Cosby had blood drawn for DNA testing Monday night in Los Angeles and, through his lawyer, challenged Jackson to do the same.

Cosby is doing it “for Autumn,” Cosby’s attorney, Jack Schmitt, told CNN Tuesday. “She is confused about who her father is; she is entitled to know.”

But Jackson’s mother, Shawn Thompson Upshaw, told Larry King that Cosby should have taken a paternity test long ago. “Why didn’t he feel guilty earlier and take it earlier?”

“My point is this: They wouldn’t allow it in the court system now. Why should we bend over backwards and jump through a hoop just because all of a sudden now he feels guilty?”

In reaching their verdict in Jackson’s case, jurors were forbidden to consider the paternity issue.

Cosby’s test results are expected in three weeks. In addition, the man listed as “father” on Jackson’s birth certificate, Jerald Jackson, has submitted blood samples for a paternity test. The one-time boyfriend of Jackson’s mother believes he is the father.

But Upshaw told King: “I can say my feeling and my belief is that Mr. Jackson is not the father.”

Cosby canceled the test once before

During Autumn Jackson’s trial, Cosby testified that he had an extramarital affair with her mother in 1974. But Cosby said he does not believe he is Jackson’s father. Cosby also testified that he had scheduled a paternity test years ago, but canceled it for fear the results might become public.

Schmitt’s trial testimony was critical to Jackson’s conviction. Jurors said FBI-recorded audiotapes of the lawyer’s conversations with Jackson — during which a $24 million “deal” was struck for her continued silence — were key evidence in their decision to convict Jackson on federal charges of conspiracy and extortion.

“He (Cosby) feels better about this, because he no longer has to worry about the threats that have come over time from Shawn. He doesn’t have to worry about the phone ringing and it being Shawn or Autumn Jackson making demands of him,” Schmitt said. “That is over now.”

Jackson is free on bail but faces up to 12 years in prison at her sentencing. However, because she has no previous criminal record, sentencing guidelines suggest she may receive closer to five years, her lawyer said.

The defense attorney has said Jackson is considering filing a paternity lawsuit against Cosby, but Schmitt told CNN there are no grounds for that.

“Paternity suits are to establish support payments. She’s an adult. She’s not entitled to any support from any parent,” Schmitt said. But he and Cosby have taken the possibility of a paternity suit seriously, he added.

During the trial, Baum argued that Jackson’s “belief” that Cosby is her father explained her actions, suggesting she had merely engaged in what she thought were lawful negotiations to obtain what was rightfully hers as Cosby’s child.

The judge instructed the jurors to ignore the issue of paternity in their deliberations, because he said it was irrelevant to the case. After the trial, jurors said the paternity question was not a factor in their decision.

Cosby, 59, has four daughters with his wife of 33 years, Camille.

The actor acknowledged having contact with Jackson and her mother over the years and paying them more than $100,000 before setting up a trust fund. Evidence showed Cosby paid $25,000 to cover Jackson’s tuition and living expenses at a Florida community college in 1994-95. For a while, he paid Upshaw $750 a week.

Baum said Cosby helped them financially to assure that they kept his affair with Upshaw a secret.

© 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
Visit CNN’s web site at http://www.cnn.com/US/9707/30/cosby.paternity/


Autumn Jackson gets 26 months for extortion plot against Bill Cosby

Jet, Dec 29, 1997

Autumn Jackson, the woman who tried to extort $40 million from Bill Cosby by threatening to tell tabloids that she is his illegitimate daughter, recently was sentenced to 26 months.

But the judge left open the possibility that Jackson, 23, might reduce her time in prison by completing a rehabilitation program. Under federal guidelines, Jackson faced between 57 and 71 months in jail.

Cosby, in a taped TV interview, said “Whatever comes down is just fine with the Cosby family.” The extortion plot was unfolded at the same time that Cosby’s son, Ennis, was murdered.

Before U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Jones pronounced the sentence, she heard a tearful statement from Jackson.

“I’ve had a long time to think about what I’ve done and I’d like to apologize to the court and Mr. Cosby,” she said. “I only hoped that Mr. Cosby would be here and I would be able to apologize to him in person for letting him down… and causing his family so much pain. I knew Mr. Cosby held great expectations for me and believed in me when no one else would, and I let him down. I’m so sorry.”

Jack Schmitt, Cosby’s attorney, said in a prepared statement to JET: “After Autumn Jackson was convicted of extortion, Mr. Cosby was asked by the probation department to comment on sentencing. He said two things. First, he said that he did not know how long the sentence should be, but had confidence that Judge Jones would be able to fix a term that was fair and just. Second, he said he believed Ms. Jackson’s criminal behavior showed that she needed counseling and that he hoped she would be sent to a place where she would receive appropriate psychological and other support services.”

The statement continued: “Today’s sentence by Judge Jones demonstrates that Mr. Cosby’s confidence was well-placed. We believe that the sentence imposed is measured, balanced and just. We hope that Ms. Jackson avails herself of the opportunity to enter the program suggested by the judge and that it leads to her rehabilitation.”

Cosby acknowledged having a sexual liaison with Jackson’s mother, Shawn Upshaw, in Las Vegas in the ’70s, and he provided more than $100,000 in financial support over the years. But he says he doesn’t believe he is her father. The issue of paternity was ruled irrelevant to the charge.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Johnson Publishing Co.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group
Visit the site at http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1355/is_n6_v93/ai_20106720

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