Noura Jackson could soon walk out of jail, where she’s been for more than nine years.
Jackson was convicted in 2009 of the second-degree murder of her mother, Jennifer Jackson, in 2005. The conviction was overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court last year on trial violations by Amy Weirich, the Shelby County District Attorney General.
Jackson pleaded guilty Wednesday to voluntary manslaughter in a plea deal struck between her attorneys and the special prosecutor on the case, 25th District District Attorney Mike Dunavant.
Dunavant said he reviewed Weirich’s previous trial of Jackson and said it’s the main reason he agreed to the deal.
“We believe that we would have called the same witnesses and would have intended to put on the same material proof regarding the allegations that the defendant knowingly and intentionally caused the death of her mother, Jennifer Jackson,” Dunavant said in court Wednesday. “With these settlement negations, we believe that this is, in fact, in the best interest of the state of Tennessee and to the victim’s family.”
A news release from Weirich’s office issued after the hearing also noted that “many of the original trial witnesses are unavailable or uncooperative with the state” and said this was another reason the deal was offered.
Under the terms of the deal, Jackson pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, down from second-degree murder.
Criminal Court Judge Chris Craft explained voluntary manslaughter to Jackson on the stand Wednesday saying it is “a knowing intentional killing of someone else. But you had adequate provocation and you killed the person after having received enough provocation to make a reasonable person act in an unreasonable manner.”
Jackson agreed to the deal only under an Alford plea, in which Jackson gets to maintain her innocence but admits that the prosecution probably has enough evidence to convict her.
Jackson showed little emotion in the courtroom Wednesday and answer edJudge Craft only with, “yes, sir” or “no, sir.” The only color she showed during the hearing at all was after Craft explained the Alford plea to her.
Craft: “(With an Alford plea) you can plead to something you say you didn’t do if you think it is in your best interest; that if you went to trial you might be convicted and you might get more time. Is that why you’re pleading guilty?”
Jackson: “That’s the only reason why.”
Jackson’s family agreed to the deal with one condition - that Jackson have no contact with them.
The plea and her time served in jail makes her immediately eligible for parole. But Craft explained that the decision to order a parole hearing and to grant or deny a parole was up to the Tennessee Department of Parole and the Tennessee Department of Corrections.
Jackson’s attorney Valerie Corder said she believes the state will act “fairly quickly” on a parole hearing for Jackson, noting she had already faxed officials a copy of the judgment sheets from Wednesday’s hearings. She said the state will calculate her days of credit for the nearly nine-a-half years she served in jail and then determine Jackson’s release date. But she did not want to speculate on a when Jackson may be freed.
Corder said Jackson had been had been “unlawfully prosecuted and unconstitutionally convicted.” After Wednesday’s hearing, Corder said Jackson was “conflicted and emotional,” noting that she had to listen to Craft list off all of the rights she would have been afforded if she decided to stay and fight.
“It’s not a perfect outcome but, then, in life, what is?” Corder said. “It’s a resolution that the state can live with, my client can live with and allows her to begin her life again.
“So in that respect it became a choice between staying incarcerated, since she was repeatedly denied a bond, or attempting to continue to fight the charge or accepting the offer the state made, which would mean her virtually immediate release into freedom.”
Jackson is 28. She told Judge Craft Wednesday that before she was convicted she had only completed 11th grade but received her G.E.D. in prison.