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Nebraska Gov Pete Ricketts Won't Be Setting Man Free Just Because Someone Else Did The Crime. Sorry!
Earnest Jackson was denied commutation but in better news Adnan Syed has been freed on his own recognizance.
On Monday, the Nebraska Board of Pardons, which consists of Gov. Pete Ricketts, Attorney General Doug Peterson, and Secretary of State Bob Evnen, denied a commutation to Earnest Jackson, who has been serving 22 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit. That's not just an assumption or a belief. It's not just that there is reasonable doubt or that it is highly unlikely that he committed the murder — he was never in prison for having actually committed the murder to begin with, and according to the state of Nebraska, it was not even actually a murder.
As we reported earlier this month:
At the age of 17, in Omaha, Nebraska, Earnest Jackson was convicted of a murder that not only did someone else confess to, but for which they were acquitted on the grounds of self-defense . Despite having an alibi at the time the murder was committed, Jackson was convicted based entirely on the eyewitness testimony of someone who had never met him but who said he saw a man who was “dark-skinned with braided hair and a blue 'FUBU' brand shirt” and then later pointed Jackson out after seeing him with his co-defendants (although Jackson did not in fact have braids at the time of the shooting). He was convicted of first degree murder but not of actually firing a gun. He has now spent the last 22 years in prison, essentially, for being wrongly accused of standing somewhere while another person shot someone else in self-defense.
It is difficult to imagine how on earth anyone in their right mind could hear those facts and think to themselves, "Yes, this person should definitely remain in prison for at least seven more years," but that is exactly what happened yesterday. It happened despite all of this, and despite the fact that the victim's family came forward and asked that Jackson be set free.
“There was more to the story,” according to Nebraska AG Doug Peterson. “And we don’t retry cases on the Pardons Board.” What the "more to the story" is, he did not share.
Gov. Ricketts said that his reason for refusal was that Jackson was a bad inmate, as he had racked up 275 violations in his time there.
“Do you know him? He’s a decent human being,” interjected Lorene Ludy, a Lincoln prison volunteer who works with Jackson on presentations to other inmates about alternatives to violence. “I see him every Saturday.”
“Two hundred and seventy five violations is not the type of behavior we’re expecting from inmates who want a pardon,” Ricketts said.
“I was hoping that you’d err on the side of mercy,” said Ludy, who followed the governor down a State Capitol hallway after the meeting to continue to plead her case.
Jackson's supporters pointed out, however, that he has had only four violations in the last seven years ("the most serious, being caught with a large amount of drug contraband, was not Jackson’s fault — another inmate later admitted, in a letter, to stashing the contraband") and the vast majority of them come from when he was first incarcerated as a teenager and pretty upset about having been convicted of a crime he did not commit.
The decision was handed down in minutes and neither Jackson's attorney, David Gutman, nor Larry Perry's son were allowed to address the board as they had requested. All Ricketts was willing to say was that the board was allowed to just reject pardon requests en masse without having to explain anything to anybody based on the “gravity of the facts.” Facts which are perhaps only known to the Board of Pardons and whichever psychic friends they consulted about the case. One would think that if there were such immensely heavy facts out there that Ricketts would have been eager to share them, given how very absurd it seems to keep Jackson in prison for a crime that was later determined not to have been a crime, committed by someone else entirely. Are they state secrets? Is our national security at risk should Ricketts divulge this info?
It's almost as if they are saying intentionally vague things like "more to the story" and "gravity of the facts" in hopes that people will use their own imaginations to fill in the blanks and assume that the Board of Pardons has reason to believe that Jackson is the Zodiac Killer or something (which sure, would be tough since he was born after those crimes occurred, but maybe he was reincarnated).
Gutman tried to point out that it is a legal impossibility for someone to be convicted of being an accessory to self-defense, but the three Republicans were uninterested in hearing that.
Jackson's only chance for release now, other than waiting until 2029, is if the Nebraska state Legislature passes LB 28 , a bill that will allow prisoners to get another trial when someone confesses to the crime for which they have been convicted. Otherwise, he is going to have to spend seven more years in prison. It's absolutely sickening.
Of course, it's not entirely impossible for people to get out of prison when they are innocent or when there is at least significant reasonable doubt that they committed the crime for which they are imprisoned.
Also on Monday, Adnan Syed, the subject of the "Serial" podcast, was freed after 23 years in prison after a judge overturned his 2000 conviction for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. The judge cited "in the interests of justice" two other suspects that prosecutors have known about since 1999 but failed to disclose to the defense along with other disculpatory evidence; the wild unreliability of the cell phone location data used to convict him; and the ever-changing testimony of co-defendant Jay Wilds (who initially called the police to tell them that he and Syed had buried Lee together, and who many people believe may have been the lone perpetrator all along).
Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby has not yet said whether she will retry him.
At this point, we should at least be honest and stop claiming that those we keep imprisoned in this country are "guilty beyond all reasonable doubt" because clearly that is not the case. We need a new saying, like "Kinda feel like they're probably guilty and besides, someone needs to pay" or "guilty because it would be awkward now to admit we made a mistake and hopefully if we just keep refusing to admit that any mistakes were made, people will forget about it, just leave us alone and go back to pretending that everyone in prison deserves to be in prison."
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