Earnest had an alibi. At the time of the crime, Earnest was at his aunt's house.
A jury convicted Earnest based on witness testimony that described one of the men as "dark skinned with braided hair."
Even though the judge knew the co-defendant confessed, he confirmed Earnest's sentence of 60-80 years.
Today, the only way Earnest can be released is with a commutation of his sentence and a pardon.
The Facts of the Case
"Someone has to pay..."
When It All Began: 11:19 p.m.
On August 31, 1999, Robert Sommerville, Shawon McBride, Dante Chillous, and Earnest Jackson were riding around and ended up near the Redman Apartments, where they conversed in the parking lot with a group of people, one of whom was Shalamar Cooperrider. Later that evening, Lance Perry and Elexsis Fulton were outside Perry’s apartment located at 4614 Redman Avenue. Shortly before midnight, an argument led to the shooting and killing of Lance Perry.
Elexsis Fulton gave the only eyewitness testimony. He stated that Earnest was present during the incident. He identified Earnest as “dark-skinned with braided hair and a blue “FUBU” brand shirt.” This is the only evidence that implicated Earnest's presence at the crime. However, Earnest had an alibi. His aunt testified that Earnest arrived at her house at 11:19 p.m. and he remained there for the rest of the night.
Officer Harold Scott of the Omaha Police Department arrived at the scene of the shooting at approximately 12:30 a.m. and discovered Perry's body on the sidewalk in front of 4614 Redman Avenue, surrounded by a crowd of people. Omaha police officer Stefan Davis, upon nearing the scene of the murder, was notified of people who had fled the area. Later, Davis received notification that all suspects were in custody. Jackson, however, was not arrested until October 9, 1999 (a little over a month after the crime).
The Original Trial: Conviction
In 2000, a jury found Earnest Jackson guilty of first-degree murder but acquitted him of the use of a deadly weapon charge.
Earnest was only 17 years old.
The court sentenced Earnest to life imprisonment for the first-degree murder conviction. Jackson’s conviction solely rested on the testimony of eyewitness Elexsis Fulton. The identifying facts were slim: a man who was “dark-skinned with braided hair and a blue “FUBU” brand shirt.”
In subsequent trials, co-defendant Cooperrider admitted to the murder of Perry and was acquitted on self-defense grounds. Cooperrider testified that he was present at the scene, that he fired his handgun several times in self-defense, and that he did not see Jackson at the scene. He maintained this testimony both at his own trial, and Chillous’s trial. Cooperrider was not convicted of a crime and was sent home on the basis of self-defense (acquittal). Chillous was also not convicted. But for Earnest, it was too late. Jackson remained convicted and incarcerated even after Cooperrider confessed.
A Second Chance: Resentencing
After a series of appeals, Earnest's life sentence was vacated because he was sentenced to a life term at the age of 17 years old. Under a new SCOTUS decision, this violated the 8th Amendment (Miller v. Alabama). The court went on to state, "But we still have a person here who is dead, and your client, the defendant, was convicted of his murder, and so I think anything but a substantial period of incarceration would be inappropriate."
The sentencing hearing, the district court stated that it had to consider the fact that a jury convicted the defendant of first-degree murder - even though another man (Cooperrider) confessed to the crime, stated that Earnest was not present, and ultimately was not convicted on the basis of self defense.
The court stated that it had crafted a sentence that would allow Earnest to work toward a future release after a substantial additional period of incarceration. Jackson was resentenced to 60 to 80 years of imprisonment with credit for the 6,044 days that he had already served. The court calculated that Earnest would be eligible for parole in about 13.5 years.
This was huge shock. While Cooperrider had previously admitted to the crime, and was acquitted - Earnest was still serving a sentence for something he did not do.
Next Steps: Nebraska Board of Pardons
Earnest's appeals are effectively exhausted. Nebraska’s Post Conviction Act severely limits post-conviction appeals for a staggeringly short statute of limitations unless new evidence, defined narrowly, is produced. The only avenue for relief for Earnest is a sentence commutation and pardon during his parole and pardons review in April of 2021. A commutation would reduce the punishment of the crime and a pardon would remove any remaining time required to serve, effectively sending Earnest home. The Nebraska Board of Pardons is comprised of the Governor, Secretary of State, and State Attorney General.