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'Bishop' calls first witness to the stand: his ex-wife

The judge thought a word of caution was in order.

For nearly a week, Herman Jackson has been acting as his own attorney at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse where he is on trial for fraud. When the government finally rested its case Thursday, Jackson set his sights on his very first witness: his ex-wife.

“Remember the court’s warnings on how to treat the witness,” U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman said.

And with that, LaKeisa Jackson settled into the witness stand and prepared to answer questions directly from her former spouse under oath. Herman Jackson, known as the bishop of the Ark of Safety Apostolic Faith Temple in Cicero, is accused of bilking Illinois out of thousands in child-care subsidies through day cares at his church. His current wife, Jannette Faria, is also on trial.

Herman Jackson, a lively and passionate preacher who once made headlines by warning the “wrath of God” would visit Coleman’s home, dismissed his attorney late last week. Ever since, he has been conducting his own cross-examinations in court, a Bible and a cup of water by his side.

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Occasionally he has conferred with Matt McQuaid, the lawyer he dismissed, who has sat patiently by in court at the judge’s request.

But that dynamic has set the stage for awkward encounters such as Thursday’s testimony of LaKeisa Jackson, who has already testified once during the trial. The former couple exchanged “good afternoons” when she took the stand. And then Herman Jackson asked his first question: “How are you doing?”

“Good, thank you,” she replied.

From there Herman Jackson asked her several questions about the homes where they lived as well as a house he said he purchased to take in the homeless. He prompted his ex to admit she had immunity from government prosecution as long as she gave truthful testimony. And he asked if she tried to set him up because she thought he was going to divorce her. She denied it.

Herman Jackson also asked her why she signed some documents with his alleged alias, “Henry Walker,” when she had an alias of her own.

“I was following your instructions,” LaKeisa Jackson said.

Before the government rested its case, Herman Jackson cross-examined FBI Special Agent Laura Miller, who testified about an interview of Herman Jackson in 2008. She said he claimed at the time not to know “Henry Walker” but said, “whoever Henry Walker was, he must be a good person.”

Miller’s testimony frustrated Herman Jackson to the point that the judge told him, “I need you to get a hold of yourself.” Miller denied under his cross-examination that they had met prior to that interview.

“Agent Miller, are you lying?” Herman Jackson asked.

“Absolutely not,” she said.