The verdict had been reached. The prosecutors were at their table. The defendant was waiting in the lockup. His lawyer, who is also his brother, was nowhere to be found.
They waited about 40 minutes before attorney George Jackson III walked into court in shirtsleeves and sat next to his brother Anthony. The foreperson read the verdict: Anthony was found guilty of first-degree murder.
Judge Ursula Walowski asked George Jackson: When should they schedule the next court hearing before sentencing?
“I won’t be participating in this,” he said. “So set any date.”
He bent over the table and rested his head on his arms.
So ended a sad, strange chapter in one of the sadder and stranger cases in recent years in Cook County.
Anthony Jackson, now 53, stood accused of beating a stranger to death on a Green Line platform in 2013 — throwing Sanchez Mixon to the ground, kicking him, stomping him so hard it left a foot-shaped mark on his head. The whole thing was caught on surveillance video.
Jackson claimed he acted in self-defense, saying Mixon provoked him.
The 43rd Street CTA Green Line station on June 18, 2021. It was the site of a fatal 2013 beating. (Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune)
George Jackson, a former federal prosecutor, had been working on his brother’s case since 2015, when he signed on to help the defense at his first trial. He then successfully got the initial guilty verdict tossed out.
After that, the case took dozens of unusual turns. George Jackson was held in contempt more than once for sexually explicit and racially insensitive court filings. He filed a slew of paperwork alleging prosecutors and judges were in on a conspiracy to frame his brother. For a time, he was booted off the case, and separately, banned from even entering the courthouse.
At times he would fail to show up in court altogether. He has been referred to the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission at least twice, and a previous judge assigned to the case openly questioned his mental health.
But the Jacksons always seemed to be working in sync with each other, at least until Thursday, the last day of trial, when some cracks began to show.
The trial itself had gone relatively smoothly, especially in light of all the previous uncertainty.
Prosecutors played some of the voluminous video footage of the beating. They called the Cook County chief medical examiner to display gruesome autopsy photos — kidneys bruised a vivid purple, bright webs of blood on Mixon’s brain — and testify that, despite Mixon’s underlying heart condition, the primary cause of his death was blunt force injury to the head.
The defense called to the stand Eunita Taylor, the Jacksons’ sister, who saw Anthony Jackson just moments after the beating.
“He said ‘I had to defend myself,’” she testified. “He said, ‘(Mixon) was crazy, he looked crazy, something was wrong with him,’ and he kept saying he had to defend himself.”
But as the trial wound down, things got significantly messier.
The Jacksons’ argument centered on self-defense. But that can be particularly hard to prove without a defendant’s testimony. Only a defendant can speak credibly about his state of mind — if he felt threatened or scared.
By law, a defendant’s choice about whether to testify in his own trial belongs entirely to him. His lawyers can advise, but the final decision is up to the defendant. The judge will ask each defendant if he wants to testify, and makes sure he knows it is his decision alone.
Anthony Jackson had indicated that he would not take the stand, but Judge Walowski asked the standard questions to confirm that decision Thursday morning. No, he said after some lengthy pauses. He did not want to testify.
Then George Jackson spoke up.
“Judge, I have an obligation to share this with the court,” he said. “I instructed my client to stop challenging me and asking questions. We did have a very serious discussion in back regarding whether to testify. … I told him, ‘If you testify, you won’t be getting me as his attorney.’”
“Mr. Jackson, that’s improper,” Walowski said, then asked Anthony Jackson again: Did he want to testify?
“I do not,” he said.
A few moments later, Walowski asked Anthony Jackson some nonstandard questions: Did he understand his brother’s decision not to attempt to bring in any of Sanchez Mixon’s alleged history of mental health issues?
In opening statements, George Jackson told jurors up front that the defense would not be saying anything negative about Mixon. That was somewhat surprising. Part of the reason the first conviction was overturned was because Jackson’s previous attorney did not try to bring up any claims about Mixon’s alleged violent tendencies, which could have bolstered a claim of self-defense.
And the importance of Mixon’s mental health records to George Jackson’s pretrial arguments cannot be overstated. They were his “smoking gun,” the documents at the center of many of the apparently baseless conspiracies he alleged in his extensive and often bizarre court filings.
After some muddled back-and-forth, Anthony Jackson answered the judge. He said that, actually, he had wanted to bring in Sanchez Mixon’s history.
“What he’s saying, Judge, is he disagrees,” George Jackson chimed in.
So at the last possible moment, George Jackson asked to call another witness: a nurse at a residential facility who had seen Mixon act agitated and aggressive the morning he was killed.
But that was not relevant as evidence, Judge Walowski said. The nurse was not a psychiatrist who could testify to any mental diagnosis, and acting intimidating earlier that morning would not necessarily be relevant to his state of mind at the time of the attack.
“I don’t find that would be admissible so I’m going to deny — Mr. Jackson, let me rule!” Walowski said as Jackson interrupted loudly. “Mr. Jackson, please let me rule!”
“Let me talk!” Jackson said.
“No, I am ruling,” the judge said. “When a judge rules, Mr. Jackson, you have to respect the ruling!”
And with that, jurors were brought back into the room, and attorneys rolled into closing arguments.
Prosecutors again displayed stills of the beating video, noting that while Mixon and Anthony Jackson exchanged words on the CTA platform, Mixon had his hands at his side the entire time, including when Jackson hauled off and punched him to the ground, and then kept kicking and stomping on him.
“For this defendant to (legally) use the level of force of stomping on someone’s head, he had to reasonably believe that his actions were necessary to prevent himself from getting hurt. The evidence shows you that that could not be true,” said Assistant State’s Attorney Anne McCord.
Then George Jackson rose to give his closing remarks, his last chance to save his brother after a yearslong, chaotic, deeply personal effort.
He made a somewhat rambling argument, more than an hour long, with references to Grandmaster Flash, Harold Washington and Malcolm Gladwell.
But some clear themes emerged. Since the South Side has a higher prevalence of crime than other areas, Anthony Jackson was correct to be on alert for danger at the 43rd Street platform, George Jackson argued. And before the beating, Sanchez Mixon was looking in Anthony’s direction, then walked up closely to brush against him, which could reasonably be interpreted as a threat or provocation, he said.
Prosecutors objected at times to his argument — when he mentioned that Anthony didn’t testify, for instance, and when he asked jurors to think about how they would conceive of the beating if the defendant were a Japanese woman instead of a Black man.
With each objection, Jackson lost a little steam. At one point, Walowski asked him to wrap it up — he had been going for nearly an hour — and he seemed to wilt.
“You’ve pretty much killed me,” Jackson said.
Jurors returned a verdict after about an hour and a half. The brothers’ supporters in the viewing gallery sighed heavily as the verdict was read. George Jackson declined to comment after the trial.
Walowski said she would appoint an attorney from the Cook County public defender’s office for Anthony Jackson at his next court date. The new attorneys are likely to fight hard to overturn Thursday’s verdict before sentencing, given the years of chaos before and during the trial.
And if they are successful, Anthony Jackson could stand trial once more. This time, perhaps, without his brother by his side.