JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A 66-year-old man accused in the 1984 rape and murder of 10-year-old Tammy Welch in Jacksonville took the stand in his own defense Thursday, flatly denying any involvement in the girl's death as her family watched in the courtroom.
James Jackson, who lived next door to Tammy's family, was a suspect from the beginning but was not arrested and charged until 2013, after the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said DNA evidence linked him to Tammy's death.
The prosecution's case Thursday focused on those DNA findings, as a forensics expert testified that Jackson "could not be excluded as a possible contributor" to a partial DNA profile obtained from Tammy's sexual assault kit in 2012.
Jackson's defense attorney questioned the validity of those results during cross-examination, but the defense did not call its own DNA expert to refute investigators' findings.
Tammy, the daughter of a sailor who was away on deployment, was raped and killed at her apartment complex on 103rd Street the same day her family was preparing to move out of their apartment and into Navy housing.
Jackson was interviewed the day Tammy was killed and again the next month but no arrest was made.
Prosecutors grilled Jackson about that first interview Thursday, questioning Jackson's response to investigators on the day Tammy was found dead.
Jackson admitted that when detectives questioned him about the little girl's death that day, he responded, "What does this have to do with me?"
“I’m asking why your first response to homicide detectives about the death of a person feet away from your home is, 'What does this have to do with me?'" prosecutor Alan Mizrahi asked Jackson on the stand. "Don’t you think the right answer should have been, 'How can I help?'”
Jackson replied, "Yes, probably."
Tammy's case was reopened in 1999, and Jackson was interviewed again in 2002, which is when he provided a DNA sample.
That sample, prosecutors argued, proved Jackson was the one who attacked and killed Tammy.
After the state rested, Jackson's daughter took the stand before Jackson testified, saying he did not rape, kill or even have contact with Tammy the day she was found dead. The defense also rested Thursday, and jury deliberations began Friday after closing arguments.
The state is seeking the death penalty.