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Donnell D. Jackson, the 44-year-old suspect in last week’s unprovoked knife attack in Pioneer Square, once owned a landscaping business and a five-bedroom house with a backyard pool in Las Vegas, according to his older brother.

The middle of three children, Jackson had done well for himself through hard work, despite a less-than-ideal childhood: His mother, who was mentally ill, was in and out of hospitals for 10 or 15 years before her death at age 49, said his brother, Derrick Jackson, of Salinas, Calif.

“He was always reading and he was very business-oriented,” Derrick Jackson said of his brother. “We don’t have the best family [in terms] of being productive, but he was the one who would be helping people through if they needed a place to stay or needed some money.”

Derrick Jackson — who last saw his brother at Christmas and thought he was still living in California — learned Wednesday that Donnell Jackson has been charged with first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder in Seattle. Donnell Jackson is accused of fatally stabbing Troy Wolff, 43, and injuring Wolff’s girlfriend, Kristin Ito, 30, on Friday night near the corner of South Jackson Street and Third Avenue South.

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“He has a family who loves him,” said Derrick Jackson.

It’s still unclear why Donnell Jackson came to Seattle, violating probation in California.

Derrick Jackson suspects he came here to try to re-establish contact with the mother of his young daughter, even though he and his former girlfriend “aren’t on good terms” and she wouldn’t let him see the baby, he said.

However, a relative of the woman said that Jackson’s former girlfriend had no idea he was now living here.

According to charging papers, Donnell Jackson claims to be schizophrenic and is homeless. He told detectives he arrived in Seattle about six months ago and has been off his medication for the past four months.

Derrick Jackson said his brother’s life appeared to begin unraveling around 2010, when Donnell Jackson filed for bankruptcy and his financial situation forced him to leave Las Vegas and move in with their younger sister, a single mom with five kids, in the Sacramento area.

Donnell Jackson would disappear for days. He did a bunch of “weird stuff,” like clipping bizarre stories out of tabloid newspapers and talking about people following him and trying to kill him, Derrick Jackson said.

“I could talk to him three or four days later and he [wouldn’t] even remember talking to me about this stuff,” Derrick Jackson said. “He didn’t believe anything was wrong but we could see he wasn’t the same kind of person.”

Derrick Jackson said he has never known his brother to be violent, and before last week, the most trouble he’d ever been in with the law was setting a grass fire near a freeway offramp outside of Sacramento in June 2011.

That August, a judge committed Donnell Jackson to a state mental hospital after finding him incompetent to stand trial for the arson, according to records filed in Sacramento County Superior Court. After his release, he was given credit for the 112 days he’d already served in jail and was sentenced to five years of probation.

Chris Johnson, a spokesman for the Sacramento County Probation Department, said Donnell Jackson was considered a low- or moderate-risk probationer and as such, he was placed on the “unassigned unit monitoring case load.” Jackson was required to notify his probation officer if he moved and was not supposed to leave the state without permission, but otherwise, he wasn’t required to check in, Johnson said.

“Everything would’ve been initiated by him because no one was supervising him in the field,” said Johnson.

Roughly 19,000 of Sacramento County’s 23,000 adult probationers are classified as low or moderate risks, just like Jackson, Johnson said, leaving 65 probation officers to actively supervise an estimated 4,000 high-risk probationers.

In September 2012, Jackson failed to show up for a couple of office appointments with his probation officer to establish restitution for the grass fire, Johnson said. (According to court records, Jackson was ordered to pay $434.15 to the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District).

A bench warrant was issued for Jackson’s arrest and he was sentenced to 30 days in jail, the records show.

In December, Jackson called his probation officer to let him know he had moved — and it was the last time Jackson was in contact with the probation office, Johnson said.

“If he moved from that address (without reporting it), it would’ve been a violation. Leaving the state would’ve been a violation, too,” he said.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or

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