Technology Pointed To Missing Girl's Father -- Global Positioning System Devices Led Police To 9-Year-Old's Grave Site

SPOKANE - From the beginning, police were skeptical of Brad Jackson's story that his daughter, Valiree, had disappeared without a sound from his front yard before he was to walk her to school.

Blood stains found on the 9-year-old's sheets and on Brad Jackson's size-11 athletic shoes added to their suspicions.

And detectives knew Valiree's mother, Roseann Stone Pleasant, disappeared just as mysteriously in 1992.

Traditional shoe leather was not enough to tell them the third-grader's fate, so detectives turned to Brad Jackson himself. In the end, the 33-year-old truck driver unwittingly gave them all the answers.

Just a week after Valiree's Oct. 18 disappearance, detectives obtained warrants to search Jackson's vehicles, including a white and brown 1995 Ford pickup.

The vehicles were soon returned, but with a hidden cargo.

Police had attached Global Positioning System devices - commonly used by boaters, hikers, aircraft and the military for navigation - that allowed them to track Jackson's movements for the next 18 days.

When detectives removed the GPS devices and went to the coordinates they contained, they found two grave sites - an empty one about 10 miles from the family home and the other in Stevens County, about 50 miles northwest of Spokane near Springdale, where the child's body was found Monday.

Police speculate the girl's body was buried at a Spokane Valley site, then later exhumed and reburied at the more remote Stevens County site.

Using information developed in part during the GPS-aided surveillance, police Thursday charged Jackson with first-degree murder.

It was believed to be the first time the Spokane County sheriff's department had used the Global Positioning System equipment in a criminal investigation. Hoping to use the technology in the future, sheriff's officials were reticent to discuss details, but obviously pleased with the outcome.

"It was very serious to us," Lt. Doug Silver said. "Our whole purpose was to use everything in our capability to determine the whereabouts of Valiree Jackson."

The little girl's disappearance set off a massive search within two miles of the house Jackson and his daughter shared with his parents.

The case resonated here, where two other parents have been accused of killing their children in the past year. Valiree Jackson's case has striking parallels to the disappearance and slaying of 11-year-old Christopher Wood in January.

Both cases involved Spokane Valley children who disappeared while in the care of their fathers. In both cases, the fathers or other family members made tearful televised pleas for their child's return. Both fathers were charged with murder after the children's bodies were found in rural Stevens County.

In the Christopher Wood case, Robert Wood committed suicide while awaiting trial in the Spokane County Jail. Jackson, being held on $1 million bond, is under suicide watch there.

Co-workers at the steel fabrication company where Jackson worked described him as a devoted father and a hard worker who often was accompanied by his daughter when he picked up his paychecks at the steel company for which he was a truck driver.

He was drawing disability payments from a back injury suffered while at a water-slide park with his daughter in August.

But detectives saw a darker side.

Authorities have no motive in the girl's death, but court documents indicate sexual abuse may have played a role.

And sheriff's detectives are sharing information they developed in Valiree's case with Spokane police, who have reopened their investigation into her mother's disappearance.

Silver said prosecutors used a lot of factors in charging Jackson with murder, but the surveillance techniques played an important role.

GPS devices receive signals from three or more satellites to pinpoint a position using the Earth's latitude and longitude, said Chris Johnson of Trimble, a Sunnyvale, Calif., company that makes GPS equipment.

Accurate to within 10 meters, the information the $300-$500 devices log can be downloaded into a personal computer and overlayed on a map, he said.

In the Jackson case, police were able to determine exactly how long Jackson had spent at each grave site. They knew he went to the Stevens County site Oct. 6. Four days later, Jackson's truck was tracked to the Spokane Valley site, then to the Stevens County site where Valiree's body was exhumed Oct. 15.

Use of the GPS raises some constitutional questions, said Dave Hearrean, Jackson's lawyer.

"There has to be some checks and balance with a device like that," he said. "What is the next step? How far is law enforcement allowed to go? Maybe the next time they'll put something in our wallets and purses and watch us from space."

But Larry Erickson, executive director of the Washington State Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said the GPS is just another tool.

"What they used there is a tremendous asset to law enforcement investigations," Erickson said.

The devices are part of a burgeoning area that adapts technology developed for other uses for law enforcement, he said.

"I don't think you'll ever get to the point where shoe leather and a good detective or patrolman's knowledge are replaced, but certainly it gives you some real advantages to bring a person who's committed a crime to adjudication," he said.