Nebraska Board of Pardons will hear Earnest Jackson’s case on Sept. 19
After he was convicted of murder as a teen, another teenager confessed to the shooting, but Jackson remains in prison two decades later
Community members hold a march for Earnest Jackson at the beginning of 2022. (Courtesy of the Jackson family)
LINCOLN — The Nebraska Board of Pardons meeting Sept. 19 may be another opportunity for freedom for Earnest Jackson.
Jackson, 40, has served more than 20 years at the Nebraska State Penitentiary after being convicted of first-degree murder. Jackson went through two trials and will not be eligible for parole until 2029 — all for a killing that another man has confessed to.
In 2000, Jackson was one of three people charged for the murder of Lance Perry, an Omaha teenager. Jackson was 17 years old at the time.
Jackson was the first of the three teenagers who were charged in the case to go to trial. During his trial, Jackson argued that he was at his aunt’s house the night the shooting occurred. Even so, Jackson was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
After Jackson’s conviction, Shalamar Cooperrider, the second teenager tried in the case, confessed to shooting Perry but argued that it was in self-defense. The jury found Cooperrider not guilty. The third person charged in the murder, Dante Chillous, was acquitted because of Cooperrider’s confession.
Despite the fact that Cooperrider had confessed to the shooting and also testified during his trial that Jackson was not present when the shooting occurred, Jackson was unable to get a new trial. The court reasoned that the evidence was not newly discovered — which could have triggered a new trial — but rather newly available.
After a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2012, all minors who had received a life sentence were eligible for a new trial. In 2015, Earnest Jackson went to trial again, but his conviction was upheld, and he was sentenced to 60-80 years in prison.
Brenda Jackson-Williams, Earnest Jackson’s mother, said she remembers both trials as if they were yesterday. She says she felt a range of emotions but never felt panicked, and she always believed that her son was innocent.
“I never felt the sense of hopelessness,” Brenda Jackson-Williams told the Nebraska Examiner on Saturday. “I just didn’t know when, but I knew Earnest was going to come home.”
Jackson-Williams tried to raise as much awareness about her son’s case as possible after the first and second trials. She said she was determined to fight what she perceived as a miscarriage of justice.
“We tried to spread as much awareness through word of mouth,” she said. “I also tried to go to different news organizations, but some of them didn’t want to have anything to do with it.”
Opportunities for growth
During Jackson’s incarceration, he has missed many life-changing events, including the deaths of his brother, father and stepfather. However, he met and married his wife, Tracy, who has also advocated for his release.
Although behind bars, Jackson said in a telephone interview from prison that he has sought out a number of educational opportunities over the years. He said getting his GED while serving his sentence gave him a sense of taking back his power.
From there, he participated in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Signature Program. Upon completion, Earnest Jackson became a facilitator for the program and began teaching it to other inmates.
Earnest and Tracy Jackson say the upcoming Board of Pardons meeting gives them hope.
“The boy incarcerated in 2000, although unjustly, is not the man that I am today,” Earnest Jackson said.
Tracy Jackson is bracing for the hearing. “[I’m] anxious, nervous and scared of the rejection again,” she said. “We’re hoping the Pardons Board does the right thing.”
Having the Pardons Board agree to a pardon in a murder case would be rare. The last commutation for a murder sentence in Nebraska happened in April 2013. Laddie Dittrich, who received the commutation, was arrested and charged with sexual assault in November 2014. His parole was revoked shortly after. Gov. Pete Ricketts has cited that case in saying the board does not want to make any more mistakes.
The Nebraska Board of Pardons currently consists of Ricketts, Attorney General Doug Peterson and Secretary of State Robert Evnen.
If the Board of Pardons turns down Earnest Jackson’s request, the Nebraska Legislature may be a route for possible relief. State Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha introduced Legislative Bill 28 in the 2021 legislative session to “permit individuals to file motions for new trials when new evidence or material is discovered, or new testimony has become available that could not be produced at trial.”
The legislation would have enabled Earnest Jackson to seek a new trial and use Cooperrider’s confession as evidence. The bill was carried over, and late in this year’s session, Wayne added it to a priority bill, but that bill failed to pass. Wayne told the Nebraska Examiner he plans to reintroduce the measure during the next session.
Earnest Jackson and his family have received much community support over the last two years. SendEarnestHome.com and a Facebook page with the same name were created to spread awareness about his case and encourage community advocacy for him.
A Change.org petition for Earnest Jackson to be pardoned has garnered over 61,000 signatures, and community activists have held several marches and rallies.
“It’s surreal,” Earnest Jackson said regarding the community support he has received. “These are things that I see on TV and not things that I see happening around me.”
He said he feels humbled by all the community support and wants to break the stigma surrounding incarcerated people. He says that pardons are in place to give people a second chance at life, and he wants to be a positive example.
“I’m not someone who is coming out there to tear down anything in our community,” Earnest Jackson said. “My thing I want them to understand about me is that I’m coming out with a heart filled with love, compassion, understanding, and resolve to want to help everyone.”
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