In guilty plea, Summerfield claims sleep drug led to slaying

By on December 15, 2014


Nathan Summerfield with his lawyers Monday. (Catherine Kozak)

Before Nathan Summerfield pleaded guilty on Monday to second-degree homicide and two kidnapping charges, he had planned to mount a defense based on his use of sleep medication the night he killed his former girlfriend two years ago during a July Fourth vacation on Hatteras Island.

Instead, Summerfield, 29, apologized to Lynn Jackenheimer’s family in Dare County Superior Court, as well as to his parents and son before being taken away to prison.

“This tragedy never would’ve occurred if it wasn’t for Ambien,” he said. “I admit responsibility for what happened (but) that does not diminish the pain and suffering of Lynn’s family.”

Wearing a dark suit and blue dress shirt, a clean-shaven Summerfield spoke in a steady voice, addressing the court. He did not look at Jackenheimer’s family who filled the front two benches of the courtroom’s right side.

“I certainly never intended for anything like to this to happen,” he said.


Summerfield after his arrest.

Superior Court Judge Jerry Tillett sentenced Summerfield to a minimum of 30 years in prison and a maximum of 38 1/2 years.

The sleep technician from Ashland, Ohio, had appeared last Tuesday before Tillett for pre-trial motions, but there was no mention in the court of a possible plea arrangement. His first-degree murder trial for strangling and stabbing Jackenheimer had been scheduled to begin on Feb. 2.

Defense attorney Samuel Dixon said after court on Monday that he and co-defense counsel Jackson Warmack, both from Edenton, had been negotiating for about a month with special prosecutor H.P. Williams, who had set a deadline to accept the plea deal for last Friday.

Dixon said that his client would have been facing the possibility of life in prison without parole on the original charge. Prosecutors had decided last year that the case did not qualify for the death penalty.

Lynn Jackenheimer.

Lynn Jackenheimer.

But the defense, Dixon said, was prepared to go to trial and had three expert witnesses lined up to testify about the bad effects of Ambien.

As part of the plea, the first-degree murder charge was changed to second-degree homicide, with the condition that one count of first-degree kidnapping and one count of second-degree kidnapping be added because Summerfield had taken the children in his vehicle after killing Jackenheimer.

Williams, from Elizabeth City, said later that the sentence for second-degree murder would have been insufficient by itself — about 18 to 23 years minimum. The prosecutor also said that Summerfield likely would have had a considerable challenge proving his case at a trial.

“In my opinion, the Ambien defense would not have worked,” Williams said, “because he remembered too much of what happened.”

Summerfield and Jackenheimer, also from Ashland, had agreed to go to Hatteras on July 1 to share the holiday with Jackenheimer’s daughter, then 13, and the couple’s son, then 3, Dare County Sheriff’s Office investigator Doug Oberbeck told the court.

Things were apparently going well, he testified, until just before midnight on July 3, when Jackenheimer, 33, had a cell phone conversation with a friend. That was the last time anyone had contact with her.

On July 6, Summerfield checked out of the rental cottage. Two days later, he said, Summerfield’s brother, Jacob, called 911 to report that Nathan had confessed to strangling Lynn and “placing her in brush.”

Despite his brother encouraging him to turn himself in, Oberbeck continued, Summerfield fled. But before he disappeared, he dropped the children off in Ohio — their son with family and Lynn’s daughter, Ciara Sheppard, at his place.

“She was reportedly upset, scared and alone at that point,” Oberbeck testified, adding that the girl has special needs.

Summerfield had said the couple “drank too much” that night, in addition to the Ambien sleeping pills he said he had taken.

On July 14, Jackenheimer’s body was found off a Frisco cul-de-sac, wrapped in a blanket and plastic wrap and put in trash bags. An autopsy determined that she had been strangled and stabbed five or six times in the neck.

Remnants of blood stains that had been cleaned up were found later in the lower level of the rental cottage, Oberbeck said.

“There was a struggle,” he testified. “She was moved from various places in the house, or restrained.”

Jackenheimer’s daughter was sleeping in an adjacent room, Oberbeck said. Her son apparently witnessed the murder, but he has rarely spoken about it.

“He indicated he was there,” he said.

Although it is not known for certain what caused the violence, Oberbeck said, it appears to have been spurred by “an attempted kiss, or an attempt to rekindle their relationship.”

“He wanted to get back together,” the investigator testified. “She was dating someone else.”

Jackenheimer had earlier told her friend, he said, that she was not in love with Summerfield and had no intention of getting back with him.

Jackenheimer’s mother, Lora Johnson, was helped out of the courtroom during part of Oberbeck’s testimony.

Summerfield, who was arrested in Ohio on Aug. 15, 2012, had a history of domestic abuse with Jackenheimer and at least one previous girlfriend.

Tillett asked the family three times if they were in agreement with the plea arrangement, with his final question being “Is this what you want me to do?”

“Yes, your honor,” responded Lora Johnson, Lynn’s mother. “We must be able to move forward.”

Ciara, now 15, read a statement to Summerfield before he was sentenced.

“Why did you take my mom away from me?,” she said. “You are . . . the worst person I have ever met. You should forever be ashamed of yourself, no matter if you say sorry or not.”

Jackenheimer’s sister, Tasha Holland, read her mother’s statement to the court, followed by her own statement.

“When you made the choice to take Lynn’s life,” Holland read for her mother, Lora Johnson, “you took our lives also.”

Johnson also condemned Summerfield for the harm he has done to the children.

“She had to fight for her life, knowing her child was watching,” Holland read. “Ciara carries the guilt of not waking up to stop you.”

When Raymond Johnson, Jackenheimer’s stepfather, began speaking, he was visibly shaking with anger toward Summerfield, shouted at him, and started sobbing. Summerfield was led from the courtroom while Johnson composed himself.

Tillett sentenced Summerfield to 225 to 282 months for second-degree murder; 104 to 134 months for first-degree kidnapping; and 31 to 47 months for second-degree kidnapping.

The sentences are to be served consecutively, with credit for time served.

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