In the summer of 2005, Noura Jackson wasn't exactly leading the enviable life of an East Memphis 18-year-old. She still hadn't graduated from high school, and after a monthlong stay at Charter Lakeside Behavioral Center (for fear she'd kill herself), she didn't have a place to live.
So Rebecca Robertson, a friend of Noura's uncle, invited Noura to stay with her. Then Robertson's Lortab and Xanax prescriptions went missing, and Noura's late-night comings and goings became a problem. That's when Nora's out-of-town maternal aunts stepped in and paid for Noura to have her own apartment. They were already paying for Noura's clothing, groceries, and gas. With the money they sent, Noura even got a dog. But they would not pay when Noura asked to have a personal trainer. And they could not stop the noise — and neighbors' complaints — when friends showed up to hang out. Noura was evicted from her apartment and spent the next few weeks staying with friends' families or with the couple she was babysitting for. Until September 29th, when police swooped in.
They arrested Noura and charged her with her mother's murder — the result of 50 (or was it 51?) stabbings delivered while Jennifer Jackson was asleep inside the East Memphis home she shared with her daughter and only child. The time of death: sometime during the early-morning hours of Sunday, June 5, 2005.
Noura never took the stand during the trial, which finally occurred in 2009. Her blood and DNA were not found on the scene. The murder weapon or weapons were never found. But the circumstantial evidence was overwhelming. The jury sentenced Noura to 20 years and nine months for second-degree murder.
That trial was followed by the local news media and online commenters and covered on the TV show 48 Hours. It was a trial that also featured the memorable opening statement of one of Noura's own attorneys, who told the jury that they would be hearing from a lot of "East Memphis brats." Judge Christopher Craft characterized them along the same lines: He called them "very privileged, completely selfish, and out of control."
But it was a trial of special interest to one Memphian: writer Lisa C. Hickman. Her daughter had gone to school with Noura at St. Agnes Academy — one of the many schools Noura attended, among them St. Mary's, Lausanne, Ridgeway, and St. George's. Hickman's older son had also been friends with a man who worked alongside Jennifer Jackson as bond traders. Hickman met with that friend and Jennifer's half-brother the day after the murder. Something about this case compelled her.
So Hickman sat in the courtroom to observe the trial. She was granted access to investigative photographs taken inside the cluttered Jackson home. And she was once even haunted by the spirit of Jennifer Jackson in a dream.
"It was what I couldn't reconcile that propelled the writing project," Hickman writes in Stranger to the Truth (available at the Booksellers at Laurelwood, Burke's Book Store, and strangertothetruth.com), Hickman's retelling of the Noura Jackson case and her unstable upbringing.
"A group of teenagers, partying, and yes, being reckless and difficult. And one member, a young girl, accused of murdering her mother, because in theory, her mom started saying no to this life style. The twinning of this normal and extremely abnormal behavior suggested a compelling and worthwhile book. I had no way of knowing just how compelling or that my involvement with the story would span eight years." But it did span eight years, during which Hickman wrestled with a narrative "not easily tamed."
"It did not conform to a linear telling or a consistent point of view," she writes. But she emphasizes: "My goal always was to stay objective."
As Hickman added in a recent email, she also wanted the narrative to have "energy." And it does — the better to reflect not only Noura's disturbing back story (which includes the murder of her father in 2004) but the drug- and alcohol-fueled lives these teenagers led, lives seemingly untethered from parental control.
In the case of Hickman's epilogue, however, the narrative exhibits more than energy. Call it omniscient and urgent, because she replays events during the early-morning hours of that Sunday in 2005 and reenacts what appears to have been an example of homicidal rage. End of story? Not quite.
In a state Supreme Court decision to consider Noura's appeal for a retrial, the court wrote earlier this month: "We ... conclude that the arguments of the defendant are without merit. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court."
And so Noura Jackson remains inside the Mark H. Luttrell Correctional Center. But after finishing her sentence, she will still be near her mother in one respect. Noura will be close in age to that of Jennifer at the time of her death: 39.
Clarification: The State Criminal Court of Appeals upheld Noura Jackson's conviction for second-degree murder. The Tennessee Supreme Court heard Noura's appeal for a new trial on November 6, 2013. It has not issued a decision.