Almost silently, J.C. Jackson was facing the most important days of his life this week. As Florida moved on from celebrating its first SEC East title in five years to preparing to face South Carolina, the former Florida cornerback was in a Gainesville courtroom, standing trial on the four counts of armed robbery he faced after being arrested in April following a robbery at an apartment complex.
Jackson can now breathe a bit freer: He was found not guilty after a short deliberation, bringing a brisk two-day trial to a close, as first reported by WCJB's Niko Clemmons.
Jackson's defense attorney's closing argument — and a lack of evidence implicating Jackson beyond testimony given to police at the scene — was apparently more than strong enough to convince the jury.
Defense atty said Jackson tried to "keep it real" in gville by hanging w/ "local hoods" but did not commit robbery #UFGators— Cindy (@cindyswirko) November 13, 2015
Jackson was told others at robbery scene to hurry up but was not responsible for the crime, said his atty #UFGators— Cindy (@cindyswirko) November 13, 2015
The prosecution's case, which held that Jackson helped plan the robbery and knew what was going to occur when he knocked on the door of the apartment in question, simply wasn't strong enough to convict him.
In that sense, I think justice was done for Jackson.
In April, I wrote that the details in the original arrest report struck me as strong implications that Jackson "was an integral part of an armed robbery" — but that report limited his actions to knocking on a door, entering an apartment, and feigning a phone call, which doesn't seem like enough on its own to convict him on charges of armed robbery, despite police continuing to assert that Jackson was at that apartment on that day. Apparently, without any additional testimony from co-conspirators or forensic evidence placing a gun in Jackson's hand, the jury agreed.
And given that reports surfaced shortly afterward about Jackson refusing to cooperate, what seems quite likely is that prosecutors lacked a case that could convict Jackson without him cooperating, and lacked the means of finding Jackson's alleged co-conspirators; by this thinking, because Jackson never identified those co-conspirators, the case fell apart.
That leaves Jackson in a complicated limbo. He's a free man again, and has been cleared by the courts, but whether his career will resume at a four-year school, or Florida, is up in the air. For Jackson's part, he said today that he'd like to play for Florida.
Whether Florida will allow that remains to be seen.
Scout's Florida site reported in May that Jackson — who had withdrawn from Florida at the time — would not return to the school or the Gators because of a decision by the school's University Athletic Association. It's likely that decision was to prevent him from attending Florida on scholarship with pending felony charges, as the Rivals Florida site reported later that same day.
Jackson might also be too far gone to come back to Gainesville. A June report suggested Jackson had decided to go to a junior college and a July one reported Jackson's chosen JUCO as Coffeyville Community College in Kansas — which, notably, was where former Florida standout Reggie Nelson played his JUCO ball.
But Jackson didn't end up at Coffeyville, instead heading much further west, to California's Riverside City College. He's compiled modest stats for a 7-2 team allowing about 20 points per game in the Golden State.
Part of the reason for those modest stats, though, is Jackson's extended absence from the team: He most recently suited up for the Tigers on October 10, when he recorded six tackles and a pass breakup, and isn't listed in the participation reports for any of Riverside's four games since. (Presumably, that absence was at least partially related to his charges and trial; Alachua County court records show that jury selection for Jackson's trial was originally supposed to happen in early October, but was instead set for early November on October 12.)
Jackson's fallen off the national radar while out in California. He doesn't appear in ESPN's rankings of the top JUCO prospects in 2016, and 247Sports is under the impression he's at Coffeyville. And it would be hard to blame anyone for more or less forgetting about a player facing a potential quarter-century in prison if convicted.
But Jackson wasn't convicted, and can — and surely will — now be evaluated on his merits as a football player again. While he played only sparingly for Florida early in the 2014 season as a true freshman before having shoulder surgery and redshirting, Jackson was competing for a starting role in the Gators' absurdly loaded secondary in the spring, and even looked to have an advantage on Jalen Tabor, who has been one of the nation's finest corners in 2015, for the starting spot opposite Vernon Hargreaves III.
His talent is so significant that I seriously doubt we've seen the last of J.C. Jackson playing college football. But given all the publicity related to these charges — and Jackson's previous brushes with trouble both at Florida and back home in notoriously rough-and-tumble Immokalee — I wonder if Jackson's best chance at making the most of his talents and breaking away from a past that seems to have tried to consume him time and again might be a fresh start somewhere far, far away from the Sunshine State.
Florida could use Jackson going forward; nearly any team without great cornerbacks could. And Jackson clearly has the talent to merit a scholarship, if a school can countenance having a player who stood trial for an armed robbery on its roster.
I suspect that the best thing for both Florida and Jackson, though, is to remain parted.