Shelby County Assistant District Attorney Stephen Jones, has been targeted for possible discipline by the Tennessee Supreme Court for withholding evidence in the Noura Jackson murder trial.
Jones was co-counsel on the trial with now Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich, who may be censured by the Supreme Court for an outburst she made in her closing arguments in the case, which violated Jackson’s constitutional rights in the case.
A disciplinary petition against Jones, who is the training director and special assistant for legislative affairs in Weirich’s office, was filed on Monday, Jan. 25, the same day as Weirich's was filed. In the Jones petition, the board has requested a hearing for testimony and evidence in the case for fact-finding and any disciplinary action that might be appropriate.
The petition says Jones violated the code of conduct for attorneys by withholding evidence in the Jackson case which could have helped her in the trial.
That evidence is the written statement by one of Jackson’s friends, Andrew Hammack. Jackson identified Hammock as a suspect in the murder of her mother, Jennifer, and police did identify him as a suspect. His written statement came after he gave police two other statements and the withheld statement is known in the trial as his “third statement.”
In his written statement to police, Hammack said he was on the drug ecstasy the night of the murder and that he did not have his phone with him. However, he testified that Jackson called him at the time of the murder and said she was in her mother’s house at the time of the murder.
“It is difficult to overstate the importance of this portion of Mr. Hammack’s testimony, and without the suppressed third statement, the defense had little means of countering it,” Tennessee Supreme Justice Cornelia Clark wrote in a 2014 ruling that ordered a new trial for Jackson. “The defense also could have used Mr. Hammack’s third statement to bolster its attack upon the thoroughness of the police investigation and to argue that Mr. Hammack himself was a plausible suspect.”
The Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility noted in the petition this week that Jackson’s defense attorneys, Valerie Corder and Arthur Quinn, made multiple requests for evidence that the prosecution held that could help Jackson in her trial, which prosecutors have to turn over thank to laws informally known as Brady rules.
“In particular, the defense made multiple pre-trial requests for any statements made by Andrew Hammack, an important witness,” reads the petition. “The defense also made a motion mid-trial for any Brady material that had not yet been provided by the prosecution.”
The petition notes that Hammack had given police several statements about his communications with Jackson on the night of the murder but that his third statement “gave a completely different account of what happened on the night of the murder from the testimony by Mr. Hammack at trial.”
“The third statement could have been used by defense in a number of ways, including impeachment of Mr. Hammack and other witnesses,” the petition reads.
Memphis Police Department officials had Hammack’s third statement in 2005. Jones claims he learned of the statement on February 15, 2009. Jones did not provide that statements to Weirich even though she was going to conduct the examination of Hammack four days later on Feb 19, 2009. Further, Jones did not give the statement to Jackson’s lawyers after he testified, as is required by state law.
Jones and Weirich were both represented by Burch, Porter, and Johnson attorney Jef Feibelman in the case in 2014. In a letter to the TBPR at the time, Feibleman said Jones’ failure to give up the evidence “was simply a mistake,” noting that if there had been any intent to withhold it, Jones wouldn’t have produced it “when he did.”
“Fairness, indeed, compels the conclusion that simple mistake does not constitute a disciplinary infraction,” Feibelman wrote in a 2014 letter to the TBPR. "Judges, after all, make mistakes and are reversed, but it would never be suggested that they have acted unethically. Respectfully, it would simply be intolerable to practice law in an environment in which a mistake - which happens to all of us - would give rise to a finding of unethical behavior.”
Asked for comment on the Jones petition, a spokesman in Weirich’s office offered only this response, which is slightly modified from the one given Friday morning regarding Weirich’s own case with the TBPR. Though, the latest response had set in bolds the words “by myself or by my co-counsel.”
Here’s that statement:
“The trial judge and the Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that my statement was not reversible error, while the state Supreme Court ruled the opposite way. A difference of judicial opinions is not uncommon with legal issues.
“Nothing done by myself or by my co-counsel in this trial should warrant disciplinary action.
“This complaint was not initiated by an attorney or by any of the judges who reviewed the case, but by a friend of the convicted killer.
This complaint sets a bad precedent for prosecutors, defense lawyers and even for trial judges. That’s why I have chosen to fight this complaint – because it is the right thing to do.”
Here's what Weirich said in a January 13 news release in reference to a new series of training videos about handling evidence for Tennessee's prosecutors:
“Prosecutors have a duty to disclose information and evidence to a criminal defendant,” Weirich said in the news release at the time. “Whether the evidence is or is not of use to the defense does not change that duty and this is a responsibility we take very seriously.
"It is vital that we maintain our knowledge on this topic in order to promote fundamental fairness and due process of law in criminal prosecutions."