Timothy Caughman described himself on Twitter as a can and bottle recycler, an autograph collector, and a good businessman. The 66-year-old had a knack for spotting celebrities on the streets of New York, and managed to get stars like Oprah and Wyclef Jean to pose with him in selfies. He wrote positive messages to his favorite performers, often just to tell them that he hoped they would have a good day. On Nov. 8, 2016, he posted a picture of himself standing in line to vote, dressed in a thick brown sweater and a baseball hat.
"I love america," he wrote.
Several months later, Caughman was dead.
On March 20, 2017, he was fatally stabbed near Times Square in a random attack that initially had no clear motive. Then, a little more than 24 hours later, James Harris Jackson of Baltimore, now 30, walked into the New York Police Department's Times Square substation, telling officers, "I'm the person you're looking for." Soon afterward, police announced that the attack appeared to be racially motivated.
On Thursday, tapes of Jackson's confession were shown in court as part of a pretrial hearing. The videos showed that Jackson told police he had been motivated to kill black men because of his intense hatred of interracial dating, according to the New York Daily News. He said he considered the stabbing to be "practice" for future murders, in which he would target "specifically black men with white women."
"I mean, that's the crux of the main problem, for me," he said, according to the Daily News.
Police had previously told reporters that Jackson had traveled from Baltimore to New York on a Bolt Bus in March 2017 and stayed at a hotel in midtown Manhattan for several days before he began wandering around the city. In his taped confession, Jackson explained to police that he had been hunting for black men who were walking around in public with white women, the Daily News reported on Thursday. He said that he had stalked 15 groups of people looking for a victim, trying to find a target "with no witnesses, 100 feet on each side."
During the police interview, Jackson was calm and "almost nonchalant-sounding" as he reenacted the stabbing, the New York Times reported. He said that he had spotted Caughman sorting through the trash for recyclables, and stabbed him multiple times with a Roman short sword that he had tucked into a scabbard and hidden in his pants. One of the detectives asked Jackson if he felt remorse.
"No," Jackson said, according to the Times. "He's a homeless black guy."
Jackson has been charged with first-degree murder as an act of terrorism, second-degree murder as an act of terrorism, and second-degree murder as a hate crime. He also has been indicted on multiple weapons possession charges. After confessing to police and to the New York Daily News in a jailhouse interview on March 26, Jackson pleaded not guilty to the charges in April 2017. His attorney told the New York Post in January that the case was "crying out for resolution" and that there had been talk of a plea deal.
If convicted, Jackson faces life in prison without parole.
Jackson, who was 28 at the time of the attack, was raised in Towson, Maryland, the Baltimore Sun reported. He attended Friends School of Baltimore, a private Quaker school that preaches equality and nonviolence. After graduating, he joined the military instead of going to college.
Officials told The Washington Post in March 2017 that Jackson had spent three years in the Army, and deployed to Afghanistan between December 2010 and November 2011. He left the service in August 2012, having achieved the rank of specialist.
Speaking to the New York Daily News from Rikers Island six days after the murder last year, Jackson said that his family was "as liberal as they come . . . typical liberal Democrats." He recalled that his grandfather, who lived in Louisiana, had crosses burned on his lawn because he supported integration.
He told the Daily News that he had his first racist thought when he was 3. As he grew older, Jackson began frequenting neo-Nazi sites like the Daily Stormer, renouncing the liberal values that his teachers and family members had preached.
"I guess it's like anything - if something gets pushed on you too much, you reject it," he said.
Jackson expressed the belief that "the white race is being eroded," and complained that "every other commercial in the past few years has a mixed-race couple in it." He also said that he had voted for former president Barack Obama, who he described as one of the few mixed-race people who he could respect.
In the Daily News interview, he explained that he had hoped white women would reconsider dating black men once they saw how strongly he felt about interracial relationships. He also said that he regretted choosing Caughman at random, because he would have preferred to kill "a young thug" or "a successful older black man."
On the Saturday night after the slaying, almost 100 people gathered for a vigil in the Baltimore neighborhood where Jackson had most recently lived. The goal, residents told reporters, was to honor Caughman's life and repudiate Jackson's racist beliefs. Meanwhile, a makeshift shrine appeared near the street corner where Caughman was killed, and strangers left brightly colored deli flowers and tall glass prayer candles in tribute. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke at Caughman's funeral on April 1, 2017, and hundreds of New Yorkers rallied last year in Union Square in his memory.