Guilty conscience leads to confession, arrest in 20-year-old murder

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PHOENIX -- Phoenix police say they've had a break -- a confession and arrest -- in a murder case that goes back more than 20 years.

Detective James Holmes of the Phoenix Police Department said Kenneth Jackson, now 52, turned himself in and confessed to killing a man 21 years ago.

"This is pretty bizarre," Holmes said.

According to Holmes, Jackson killed Marlon Darton in the course of an armed robbery at the victim's home in November 1988. Darton, Jackson's neighbor at the time, was 78 years old.

"At this point, from everything that we've looked at in the case, if Mr. Jackson didn't come here to Phoenix and turn himself in, there's a very good chance it would never have been solved," Holmes said. "We had no evidence. We had nothing. ... There's a very good chance that Mr. Jackson could have lived out the rest of his life a free man. But obviously, he wasn't free."

Holmes said Jackson told them he was strung out on drugs and needed a fix at the time of the robbery and murder. He also knew Darton lived alone in a home that no longer exists in the area of 16th and Monroe streets. Now there's only a vacant field there.

"He was sort of an acquaintance [of Darton's]. They had talked to each other before," Holmes explained. "He was allowed into the house. He was recognized by the victim."

According to Holmes, it's not clear why Jackson killed Darton (pictured at right), but investigators do know that Jackson beat him and then took his wallet and left the scene. Police say according to the original report, it might have been a couple of days before Darton's body was found.

After getting his next drug fix, Jackson apparently realized what he had done and fled to California. That's where Jackson has been for the past 21 years, where he turned his life around, turning to religion, getting off drugs, finding a good job with the state and building a new life for himself.

At one point, Jackson confessed to his father, who was on his deathbed. According to Holmes, Jackson's father told him to "get back to the church and fix this."

More than two decades after the crime, Jackson did just that.

"The one thing we know is Mr. Jackson was very unhappy," Holmes said. "He made the clear to us. ... He couldn't stand the fact of what he had done."

Jackson told police he needed to "clear his conscience" and "pay the price" for his actions, which have "haunted" him every day for more than two decades.

Holmes said Jackson recently left his job and his home in California and drove to Georgia to talk to his sister about his past. From there, he drove to Phoenix and turned himself in. Jackson walked into the Phoenix Police headquarters at about 3:30 Tuesday afternoon and proceeded to tell homicide investigators everything.

"It's absolutely amazing to me," Holmes said. "Just to make it clear, Mr. Jackson had details of this homicide that no other person could possibly know. We're convinced that he is the person who did this."

Jackson has been booked on charges of first-degree murder and armed robbery. That murder charge could carry a sentence of death or life in prison.

Darton's family lives out of state, but Holmes said they have been notified about Jackson's arrest.