After 22 years in prison, Earnest Jackson to go before Nebraska Pardon Board
Jackson was sentenced to life in prison at 17-years-old for a shooting for which his codefendant confessed and was acquitted
LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - On Monday, Sept. 19, Earnest Jackson will hear his fate from Nebraska’s top elected officials after decades of fighting for his freedom from the confines of prison.
“I’m anxious, optimistic,” Jackson said in a phone call from the Nebraska State Penitentiary. “Just ready to be heard.”
Jackson will go before the pardon board asking for his 60-80 year sentence, to be commuted after 22 years in prison.
“We have been dreaming of this for so long,” Tracy Jackson, Earnest’s wife said. “To actually have the opportunity or to even like see it within grasp is pretty overwhelming.’
Tracy, who has been married to Earnest for seven years, is hopeful Governor Pete Ricketts, Attorney General Doug Peterson and Secretary of State Bob Evnen will make the right decision, because she said the truth is on his side.
“First and foremost, he’s an innocent man,” Tracy said.
Earnest was accused of being involved in the fatal shooting of Larry Perry in Omaha in 1999 when he was 17-years-old. He was arrested along with Shalamar Cooperrider and Dante Chillous. Of the three, Earnest was the first to go to trial.
A witness testified he had seen Earnest at the scene of the shooting, though his aunt testified he was at her house. He was found guilty of first degree murder and not guilty of possession of a weapon to commit a felony.
Earnest said this is one of the confusing facts of his case.
“How can I do one without the other,” he said.
But a more important fact is that in Cooperrider’s trial after Earnest’s, Cooperrider took full responsibility for Perry’s death.
“He did it in self defense,” Earnest said. “He didn’t say it only once, but he said it twice during trial and he got cross examined on it. He said I had nothing to do with it and I wasn’t even there.”
Neither Cooperrider or Chillous were found guilty of the shooting, but Earnest has been behind bars for two decades.
“A lot of people on the outside you know believe in our system,” Earnest said. “I’m a person that understands and believes in our system, but I also understand no system is perfect.”
Earnest has been fighting the conviction since the he was sentenced, his mom, Brenda Jackson-Williams, right alongside him.
It’s why she’s hesitant to get her hopes up for Monday’s hearing.
“I’m just stagnant,” Jackson-Williams said. “I’m just waiting to see because my hope was up in 2016, my hope was up back in 2000 when this happened. This should have never happened.”
After Cooperider’s confession in 2000, Earnest requested a new trial but that request was overturned. He filed a second motion for a new trial again in 2012, arguing again that if the judge and jury had heard Cooperrider’s confession Jackson wouldn’t have been found guilty. This motion earned him a sentence reduction from life to 60 to 80 years, but not because of the facts of the case, but because of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that minors couldn’t be sentenced to life in prison.
The court stating, “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.”
Earnest once again, tried to appeal, but to no avail.
“That crushed me,” Jackson-Williams said.
The pardon board is one of Earnest’s only options left. It’s why Jackson-Williams is driving across the country be there.
“God knows I want my son home. After 22 years, I want Earnest Jackson home,” Jackson-Williams said. ‘It’s time for Earnest Jackson to come home.”
She said her son’s behavior in prison speaks for itself.
Earnest has gotten a high school diploma and college degree behind bars. She said he has served on boards and garnered several other certificates and achievements.
“This is a man who deserves a second chance,” Jackson-Williams said.
Earnest said he strives to be a good example for other inmates.
“That is my main focus every day, how am I getting better, how I’m going to improve so I don’t stay stagnant,” Earnest said.
He hopes Ricketts, Peterson and Evnen can see he isn’t the 17-year-old boy who was sentenced to life in prison, but a 41-year-old man ready for life outside.
“To be able to games and watch and play sports with my son,” Earnest said. “To be able to celebrate with my family for holidays and birthdays and things of that nature. To be able to take my wife out to dinner and be a part of the community. Be able to share my experience and make sure nobody else walks down this path.”
Tracy is hoping for those same opportunities to just be a regular couple.
“Being a prison wife isn’t easy,” she said. “Loving somebody who you can’t touch on a daily basis or have a relationship with where you can interact whenever you want.”
Earnest’s family aren’t his only supporters. A website, sendearnestjacksonhome.com has been collecting letters to send to the pardon board, an online petition has more than 62,000 signatures.
The family of Larry Perry have also put their support behind Earnest. In a letter compiled by the Send Earnest Home initiative, Elizabeth Smith who had a three-month-old son with Larry at the time of his shooting called for Jackson’s commutation.
“I felt lost and scared for my son’s future,” said Elizabeth Smith, Mike’s mother. “I was only 18-years-old and a new mother. Now, my son will grow up without his biological father - and I knew Larry wanted to be there for Mike.”
The letter said Mike has been deeply affected by Larry’s death, but he too, is in support of Earnest going free.
“I am speaking up and asking for a commutation of Earnest’s sentence because it is the right thing to do,” said Hatcher. “As a Christian, I believe in forgiveness and mercy. This will help me find healing even though I can’t change the past and meet my father. I hope that these words reach your hearts and lead each of you to grant Earnest a second chance at life to do impactful things in his community.”
While it’s not easy to sum of 22 years of history, Earnest is hoping the members of the pardon board will review every aspect of his case and give him his chance at life outside of prison.
“They have a rare opportunity in our state’s history,” Earnest said. “To grant an innocent man his freedom.”
Copyright 2022 KOLN. All rights reserved.