After setback in front of Board of Pardons, those close to Earnest Jackson prepare for next steps
OMAHA - A lot has changed since 1999.
One thing that has remained consistent in the last 23 years is Earnest Jackson's insistence that he had nothing to do with the death of Larry Perry.
Jackson's request for commutation of his 60-to-80-year prison sentence was denied by the Nebraska Board of Pardons - made up of Governor Pete Ricketts, Attorney General Doug Peterson, and Secretary of State Bob Evnen - on Monday. It was the latest setback for Jackson and those close to him, who have sought for years to have him released from jail.
At just 17, Jackson was convicted of first-degree murder by a Douglas County jury in 1999. But in subsequent trials of other defendants related to the case, a jury found that Perry's death was justified, a situation of self-defense. Another man, Shalamar Cooperrider, later said in court that he was the trigger man and that not only did Jackson not kill Perry, but he also wasn't even present when the incident happened.
"What we have here is Earnest Jackson serving time as being an accomplice to an event that two juries seemed justified," Jackson's attorney Daniel Gutman told News Channel Nebraska. "It's a legally impossible conviction."
But the system disagrees. Both the Board of Pardons and the Nebraska Supreme Court have denied Jackson a chance at post-conviction relief.
His case has support from family and friends in Nebraska and beyond. He's even drawn support from some of Perry's family members.
"Larry Perry had a three-month-old son when he was shot and killed," Gutman said. "That child is now 25 and he has come out in full support of Earnest and his story deserves to be told and heard, even if the legal system isn't listening to it."
But support for Jackson isn't universal.
“The underlying charge against Mr. Jackson is first-degree murder," Governor Ricketts told WOWT 6 News in a statement. "While serving his sentence, Mr. Jackson has amassed a record of 275 separate misconduct reports. That averages out to over 12 misconduct reports for each year he has served. Additionally, there are family members of the victim who conveyed their opposition to granting a commutation. Due to these facts, the Pardons Board has unanimously determined to deny Mr. Jackson a commutation of his sentence.”
News Channel Nebraska reached out to the governor for more information on the comments from Larry Perry's family - both in favor and against Jackson's commutation.
"The Pardons Board received letters in support and in opposition to Mr. Jackson’s commutation," the governor's office said to News Channel Nebraska in a statement. "This includes letters from the victim’s immediate family, who asked that Mr. Jackson’s commutation be denied."
The governor's office shared two of those letters with NCN. One - from a parent of Larry Perry - said they don't believe Jackson is remorseful and that he should be held accountable for Perry's death. The other - from one of Perry's siblings - claimed that they were an eyewitness to Perry's death and that Jackson is the one who killed Perry.
"Any time someone loses their life, whether justified or not, it is a tragedy," Gutman said in response to News Channel Nebraska. "The family members of that person deserve to be heard regardless of what their position is."
"Legally," Gutman continued, "Our judicial process doesn't account very often for victim statements and victim impact."
What about those 275 misconduct reports? Gutman said he couldn't confirm the exact number, but says that Jackson's situation needs to be taken into account.
"He was sentenced as a 17-year-old to life in prison without the possibility of parole," Gutman said.
That sentence was changed after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that mandatory life sentences without parole for minors are unconstitutional.
"He went into an adult facility as a teenager. When we talk about this issue of write-ups...that can be something as simple as mouthing off. We should not be surprised that Earnest Jackson and any other 17-year-old in an adult facility may have said something wrong to a correctional guard resulting in a write-up. What we should be asking is why are we sending children to adult facilities?"
As of now, the next chance for Jackson - who has graduated from the University of Nebraska-Omaha while incarcerated - to get out of prison won't come until 2029 when he's first eligible for parole. Gutman hopes Jackson won't have to wait that long.
"We are going to be taking a look at this case again to see if there's any way we can get this case back to court," he said.
Gutman said the issue may come up in the Nebraska Legislature.
"I can't speak yet to the details of what that legislation would be, but essentially we are looking at legal avenues and legislative avenues that could get Earnest justice."