The death of a paraplegic man recently meant more than the end of a painful 13-year-struggle with a devastating injury — it transformed an aggravated assault into a murder.
A medical examiner's ruling in the case means the law will see Jerry A. Jackson's years of struggle after being shot in 1999 not so much as a triumph over adversity, but as a long, slow death.
The ruling prompted police to dust off the long-ago abandoned case. Detectives are searching for a yet-to-be-identified man, previously seen as merely a thug, now suddenly sought as a killer.
Jackson had just turned 19 when he was shot in the neck and paralyzed in the early evening on Nov. 30, 1999. He was walking to a friend’s car near 24th Street and Michigan Avenue when a green car passed, then stopped and backed up.
Jackson asked what the people in the green car were doing and an occupant fired a single round at Jackson, who collapsed on a curb.
His mother, Joan Wilson, had moved to New York after her son turned 18. She immediately flew back to Kansas City when she heard Jackson had been shot. When she first saw her son at Truman Medical Center, a metal halo brace encircled his head and neck, a tracheotomy tube jutted from his neck and IVs webbed from his arms.
“Why can’t I move my legs?” her son mouthed to her.
Wilson didn’t know. She asked doctors, who told her that her only child was now a paraplegic who would never walk again. They asked her to break the news to her son.
“That was the worst day of my life,” she said. “That was my baby.”
“Unplug everything,” he mouthed to her, tears streaming down his cheeks. “I don’t want to live like this.”
Wilson convinced him that God saved him for a reason.
Jackson couldn’t breathe on his own or talk for the first month. He grew frustrated about his lack of ability to communicate, so he and his mother developed a system that helped: blink once for ‘yes,’ twice for ‘no.’
He had to learn to breathe and feed himself. One of his hands maintained good movement, but the other curled inward stiffly. He had to wear a seatbelt in his wheelchair so he wouldn’t tumble forward out of it. He eventually built up enough upper body strength to shed the belt.
After several months of rehabilitation, he was released to Wilson’s care. She and her husband moved to the Kansas City area and cared for him at home. He needed to be lifted out of bed, moved and rotated regularly, and watched closely for bed sores. But Wilson worked at night and it became too much for the couple.
Wilson reluctantly put him in a nursing home. She later worried that Jackson resented her for it.
“I asked for his forgiveness,” she said. “He said, ‘I’m sick. I need a lot of care. I understand.’”
Over time, Jackson became relatively active, even befriending another young paralyzed nursing home resident. Together, they would steer their motorized wheelchairs down the street and enjoy drinks at a local pub.
Jackson’s youth, wit and kindness drew in other residents and nurses. He was asked to be president of one of the residents’ clubs, and nurses regularly surprised him with meals from Taco Bell and Church’s Chicken. Jackson enjoyed playing video games that allowed his characters to move on the screen in ways he could not in real life. He also continued writing and recording rap songs.
“He really made the best of his situation,” Wilson said.
But he never wanted to talk about the day he was shot. Each time his mother brought it up, wanting to figure out who had shot him and why, Jackson steered the conversation away. Detectives never made much headway in the case either.
A few years ago, Jackson started developing large bed sores that turned into infections that invaded his entire body. He spent almost all of last year checking in and out of a hospital. He became bed-ridden, lost weight and refused to eat.
“Mom, I’m tired,” he said to her last month.
“I don’t feel good, and it’s getting worse. I know that I’m dying.”
Wilson made his favorite meal, a rice dish with fried pork chops, to try to cheer him up, but Jackson didn’t want it. Within days, he stopped talking.
On March 16, he took his final breath with Wilson by his side.
“These last two years,” she said, “he had to suffer so much.”
After she buried her 32-year-old son, she got a call from Kansas City detectives. She wondered why, after all these years.
They explained that her son’s death was directly connected to the injuries he suffered back in 1999. Homicide Sgt. Richard Sharp said his detectives were breaking down the entire case file and “starting all over again.”
The recent efforts please Wilson.
“This is my second chance for justice,” she said. “I know in my heart that they’re going to get caught.”