Shelby County Assistant District Attorney Stephen Jones did withhold evidence from Noura Jackson’s attorney during her 2009 trial but it was a mistake and he should not be punished for it, at all.
All of that is according to Jones’ response to the state’s petition to discipline the Memphis attorney. He was targeted for discipline last month by the Tennessee Supreme Court Board of Professional Responsibility, the state agency that oversees and disciplines attorneys in the state.
The state said Jones withheld a key statement from a key witness in the murder trial, a statement which could have helped Jackson’s defense in the trial and, perhaps, changed the verdict in the case. (Jackson was convicted in 2009 but the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the conviction in 2014 based on misconduct in the case by Jones and Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich.)
That evidence is the written statement by one of Jackson’s friends, Andrew Hammack, who was a suspect in the murder of Jackson’s mother, Jennifer. He gave three statements to Memphis police, but in the statement that was withheld, 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 that time.
“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,” Tennessee Supreme Justice Cornelia Clark wrote in a 2014 ruling that ordered a new trial for Jackson.
In his response filed Tuesday, Jones said he did withhold the statement from Jackson’s attorneys but it wasn’t intentional. He said he wasn’t aware of the statement until the trial was underway. Once he got a copy of the statement, he said he intended to produce the statement for Jackson’s attorneys “at his next opportunity.”
“Because of the number of witnesses testifying, he placed the statement in the flap of a trial notebook and did not produce that statement to the lawyers for Ms. Jackson or to the lead counsel for the state,” reads Jones’ petition. “As Mr. Jones also previously explained, he did not thereafter remember the issue with the statement until he discovered it in the notebook after the trial had concluded.”
The action was “unintentional and inadvertent,” according to Jones’ petition. As such, his attorney, Brian Faughnan, argues in Jones’ petition that it would be unfair to so strictly enforce court rules against him for an “innocent” mistake.
Jones said he understood that the Supreme Court believed Hammack to be “an important witness.” His attorney noted, too, that the Tennessee Supreme Court disagreed with other courts that the Hammack statement could have been used by Jackson’s attorneys ‘in a number of ways,” as the TBPR noted in its petition against Jones.
Jones’ attorney countered by restating in his response that instead of pursuing a new trial [with Hammack’s statement], “Ms. Jackson entered an Alford plea to the charge of voluntary manslaughter and accepted a 15-year prison sentence.”
All of that was in Jones’ first defense of himself to the state board. His attorney laid out 12 more defenses.
In one, Jones’ attorney argues that the Jackson case was the most complicated case he’d ever worked on at the time.
“His involvement in preparation for the trial and the trial itself resulted in significant, atypical stress to Mr. Jones that impacted his health,” his petition reads.
His attorney said if the board can prove any misconduct on Jones’ part in the case that the impaction his health should be a mitigating factor.
As far as discipline for Jones by the state, he “denies that any kind of discipline of any kind is appropriate against him with respect to this matter.”