Noura Jackson recently asked her attorney, "What do you mean? You can just talk to your car and not hold the phone?" She didn't know until recently who Mike Conley is. She couldn't believe the Memphis Grizzlies were bigger than the University of Memphis Tigers.
Jackson has been out of touch for nearly 10 years, incarcerated since she was 17. Now 27, she'll likely walk out of jail soon.
She was convicted in 2009 of the 2005 stabbing death of her mother, Jennifer Jackson. That conviction was overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court last year, which cited then-Assistant District Attorney Amy Weirich with suppression of evidence in the case and illegal statements in her closing argument against Jackson.
Attorney Valerie Corder has worked on Jackson's case at no charge for the past 10 years. Attorney Michael Working joined Corder on the case in November.
Corder said prosecutors "cheated and lied" in Jackson's first trial. But, more importantly, she said they ignored physical evidence that she believes points to other, more likely suspects.
Flyer: Why did you take this case?
Valerie Corder: What was compelling to me was that you have a child born and raised in our community, who was simply abandoned by the structure of the community that should have been supporting her.
Michael Working: There's really a shift in the law about some very basic principles about our country and our justice system at issue here. I've really enjoyed getting to know Noura over this case, and I really like Noura a lot. ... But the case was bigger than Noura.
Do you think she committed the crime?
VC: There is no physical evidence that she was in any way involved. Quite the contrary, the physical evidence establishes that somebody else entirely separate and different from her was involved.
MW: There was a complete willingness to ignore the science, to ignore the real evidence. Anyway you slice it, the first trial was a public slut-shaming and character assassination of a young girl who hadn't even started her life yet.
VC: [The trial tactic was]...we'll trust that you won't care whether she did it or not. You'll dislike her so much, you'll wish to punish her anyway. The Supreme Court said ... that was a completely reprehensible trial tactic and the trial judge shouldn't have permitted that evidence, and we will not permit it if there is a retrial.
What was Noura's response to the plea deal?
VC: Her first comment was, "But they're never going to try and find who really killed my mother." In her childlike mind, she believed if she was acquitted at another trial, they'll have to actually investigate this from the point of view of "Let's see what the evidence says." That was the bigger hurdle than, "You mean I can get out of here and have a bath and scratch a dog's belly tomorrow?"
What will Noura do now?
MW: Going forward, I think she wants to lead a really simple life out of the public eye. I think she probably does want to do some things in terms of prison reform.
VC: Re-entry is an issue for anyone, but when you are in your formative years of being a teenager when you are institutionalized and that institutionalization lasts for 10 years, you do not develop normally. So, how do you set aside that 10-year deprivation and walk back out into the world?