Jackson, also 17, was put on trial first. Why? Because his case number was the lowest, said Jeff Pickens, an Omaha attorney who represented Jackson for years but did not represent him in the original trial.
“I think his conviction was the result of bad timing,” Pickens said. And because of this quirk of fate – Jackson is just going to be tried first – “I think an innocent person is in jail.”
The trial order turned out to be very important, Pickens said, because the other two men arrested in Perry’s murder, still awaiting their own trial, refused to testify at Jackson’s house.
During his trial, Jackson maintained his innocence, said he was not at the scene of the crime and denied any involvement.
But prosecutors in the case had an eyewitness who placed Jackson at the scene, whipping Perry with a pistol during the argument, though defense attorneys have questioned the accuracy of that testimony.
Jackson was convicted of first-degree murder but acquitted of using a deadly weapon, meaning the jury did not believe he himself pulled the trigger. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Then things got stranger.
Cooperrider was then put on trial. In that trial, he posed as Perry’s shooter, said he killed Perry in self-defense – and told the courtroom that the already-convicted Jackson had nothing to do. do with the shooting.
He was acquitted. Then he spoke at the Chillous trial and repeated the same information. Chillous was also acquitted.
That left Jackson in the Nebraska State Penitentiary for being an accessory to a murder that two later juries ruled was not murder – and which the self-confessed shooter said Jackson had nothing to do with. see.
“It doesn’t make sense,” said Daniel Gutman, an Omaha attorney now representing Jackson. “It’s legally impossible.”
“We have to…recognize that there is no valid justification as to why Earnest Jackson is sitting in a jail cell,” he said. “You can search for it and search for it, but at the end of the day, it’s an injustice in our state and a guy is in jail for a legally impossible sentence.”
Prosecutors defended the guilty verdict, then and in a 2016 re-sentencing that came after the US Supreme Court ruled a minor could not be sentenced to prison life for murder. Jackson was sentenced again to 60 to 80 years.
Prosecutors said at trials and in interviews that Jackson received a fair trial and that his jury believed the eyewitness. The Nebraska Supreme Court also upheld the conviction, ruling that Jackson was ineligible for a new trial because Cooperrider’s testimony “was not recently discovered, only newly available.”
Senator Justin Wayne of Omaha has twice introduced a bill that would expand the state’s definition of newly discovered evidence to include testimony from witnesses, like Cooperrider, who have previously asserted their constitutional right to avoid testifying. .
Essentially, it would have allowed Jackson to participate in a new trial.
In 2021, the bill – added as an amendment to another bill – failed by a single vote. Wayne plans to table it again in the next session.
Even if the Pardon Board commutes Jackson’s sentence on Monday, there’s still work to be done, Wayne said.
“A forgiveness is a matter of forgiveness. My bill is about ensuring that our justice system is fair,” Wayne told the Legislative Judiciary Committee in 2021. “A fair justice system is about allowing someone to prove their innocence rather than ask for forgiveness.
It is powerful that the victim’s son and the son’s mother have submitted written testimony pleading for Jackson’s release, said the state senator who represents parts of north and northwest Omaha.
“I think it gets to the point where our justice system has worked for everyone else involved in this case except for [Jackson.]said Wayne in a phone interview Wednesday. “That even the alleged victims are saying it wasn’t him… It shows that we still have a long way to go to get justice for everyone.
Jackson is eligible for a parole hearing in 2029. By then, he will be 47 and would have served 30 years in prison.
But a group of friends, family, lawyers and supporters who have organized themselves into two volunteer groups, Send Earnest Home and Free Earnest Jackson, are now hoping the Pardon Commission will commute Jackson’s sentence and releases him after Monday’s hearing.
This group now publicly includes Mike Hatcher, the son of Larry Perry.
As an adult, Hatcher requested a phone call with Jackson. He was nervous talking to the prisoner, he wrote in a statement sent to the Board of Pardons, because he knew nothing about him beyond his sentence. Since then, he’s gotten to know Jackson, who graduated from college in prison and started an inmate mentorship program.
“My impression of Earnest that I have gathered over time is that he is a remarkable man,” he wrote in a two-page letter supporting Jackson’s release.
In an email Wednesday, spokesman Alex Reuss declined to say whether Ricketts, one of three members of the clemency board, had read the letter, saying the governor does not comment on individual cases before hearings. of the pardons commission.
In Hatcher’s statement, he implores the clemency board — the Nebraska governor, secretary of state and attorney general — to release the man convicted of murdering his father after Monday’s hearing.
“I will not be able to make peace with all that has happened until the State of Nebraska grants him freedom and pardon,” Hatcher wrote. “I stand up and ask for a commutation of Earnest’s sentence because it’s the right thing to do.”