Barbara Britton, making a rare appearance outside the home where she has been on house arrest since 2010, was in court yesterday to plead guilty as an "accessory after the fact" to the murder of David Jackson
, the father of her son, in June 1988.
When Judge Raag Singhal declared her guilty, it ended a decadeslong search for justice in the case. But the plea deal came with a no-contact order between Britton and Jackson's family, and it was painfully clear yesterday that the two sides will never reconcile their stories.
Britton appeared alongside her lawyer, Keith Seltzer. She had a somber expression and wore a brown tweed pantsuit and stood at the podium answering quietly when the judge asked her questions. She pleaded guilty to one count of being an accessory after the fact -- meaning she knew that her husband, Michael Wolfe, and her father had killed Jackson but did nothing about it. This brings a sentence of two years' community control (house arrest) and eight years of probation.
She'll be allowed to leave the house to meet with her lawyer, go to church (up to four times a week, says Seltzer), and seek employment.
Seltzer, the lawyer, formed a close connection with the case in the years since he was hired in 2008 to defend Britton. He brought his wife along to watch this final milestone in one of his biggest cases. Pembroke Pines Police and Jackson's family sought with a vengeance to see Britton locked up, convinced that she had played a pivotal role in luring Jackson to the motel on Dania Beach Boulevard where his life was supposedly taken.
As part of the deal, prosecutors asked that Britton give a "truthful statement" about what happened on the summer night when Jackson was murdered.
"I was not present when David was killed," said Britton, facing the judge. "I did not assist in burying him. David and I had a good relationship, and I was looking forward to seeing him, and him being with my son, in June 1988."
Britton did say she alerted Jackson that her father and her new husband wanted to meet with him to discuss something. "That meeting must have occurred on... the day David disappeared," said Britton. Afterward, "my father said, 'David will never bother you or your son again.'" Her father's animosity toward Jackson was reportedly motivated by reports from Britton that Jackson had been abusing their son.
The judge asked the prosecutor, Lanie Bandell, if she accepted the statement. "Judge, it's the truth, according to the defendant. There's no way to challenge that," she said. Britton made the statement under oath.
Sitting in the audience was Jackson's mother, Judy Carlson, who has waged an often-public struggle for the past 24 years to find out what happened to her son and see punishment for those involved. She's formed an unusually close friendship with Donna Velazquez, the Pembroke Pines detective who connected Wolfe and Britton to Jackson's disappearance. A close friend of Jackson's, Bill Brown of Wisconsin, was also present. Brown and Carlson were allowed to offer statements as part of the plea agreement.
When Carlson got up to speak, she showed visible anger toward Britton and spoke directly to her. "I believe you married Michael for one reason, and that reason was to grom Michael to murder David," she said, calling Britton a "sociopath." She paraphrased the version of events told by Wolfe days after he was convicted of the murder, placing Britton in the motel room at the scene of the crime and having her assist while Wolfe killed Jackson, then bury his remains near the future site of the Miramar Walmart. During parts of Carlson's statement, Velazquez, the detective, nodded her head in agreement. Britton listened quietly to the accusations against her, her ex-husband, and her deceased father.
"Michael is where he should be, in prison. Your father is where he should be. And you will join him one day, because that's where you should be: in hell," said Carlson. Her grandson John looked on impassively as she made these statements to his mother.
In one of the stranger twists of the story, in the years after Jackson's murder, Britton worked at several Walmart stores in the area -- including the one built almost directly on top of the site where Jackson's bones had been buried. The bones were discovered by a construction worker in 1989. Carlson took the opportunity yesterday to accuse Britton of knowingly walking the floors above the place where her son was buried.
Britton offered no response and maintains that she didn't know where the body was buried. But now she'll face another struggle: how to find employment after years in jail and on house arrest and still facing a decade of continued punishment. She'll have to travel to find a job that will take her, so she can reintegrate into society. Seltzer asked the judge to allow her to seek employment across the tricounty area, to increase her chances. She worked for a time at a Walmart in Miami-Dade County, he says.
She's thinking of trying to work there again.
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