Thursday, May 6, 2010
In his first appeals, Jackson said his lawyers hadn't done their jobs. Later, he started at¬tacking the evidence.
Evidence amassed over the years - contradictory state¬ments, interviews, police re¬ports — fills Jackson's files, sup¬porting his claim that he had nothing to do with the murder.
Witnesses gave questionable and inconsistent testimony. Several Shorty Vice Lords, who were in their early teens, testi¬fied they had known Jackson for years. Jackson, who was 24 at the time, had been in prison for the four years before the mur¬der. Some of Williford's family members said Jackson threat¬ened Williford's life when they confronted the Shorty Vice Lords about drugs Williford took from the gang. In state¬ments to police in the days after the shooting, the same people said a 16- or 17-year-old boy made the threats - not the 20-something Jackson.
The gang was after him. Jack¬son says the Vice Lords had a reason to tie him to the crime: Gang members were angry be¬cause he renounced the Vice Lords after leaving prison several months before. He sites the attack against him at his party in April 1991 as evidence of that anger.
Perhaps the most compelling evidence is found in a collection of new statements- from three people who told police that Jackson was behind the murder. Those witnesses - including the boy who pulled the trigger
— now say they lied.
• In an interview with The Journal Times and in a swarn statement, Leonard Herron ad¬mitted he implicated Jackson at Berry's request, and to get back at ]ackson for talking to police about his friends.
• Cornelius Hunter told po¬lice Jackson was involved even though he knew that not to be true, according to an affida¬vit and an interview with The Journal Times. Hunter hoped police would give him a break in an unrelated juvenile case if he cooperated and verified the story they wanted. He said po¬lice told him he could have been charged with the shooting if he didn't help them.
• As he got older, Simpson began telling people Jackson tried to keep him from getting involved with the shooting, and that Jackson tried to stop~the murder altogether. Law students from the Wisconsin Innocence Project worked with Simpson in 2001 to draft an affidavit about the murder. In it, Simpson said Berry gave him the gun and put him up to the murder; Jackson had nothing to do with it, de¬spite Simpson's testimony at the time.
Simpson refused to sign the affidavit, saying his family pressured him to stay out of it, ac¬cording to the law student who prepared the affidavit. Without Simpson 's cooperation, the WIP could do no more for Jackson. Simpson had earlier signed an affidavit found in Berry's file. In it, he says lie acted completely on his own and that neither Ber¬ry nor Jackson was involved.
Word of liars
The very nature of Jackson's appeal - that everyone lied in 1992, and they are just now tell¬ing the truth — works against him as well.
"Judges dislike recantations," said Keith Findley, director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project.
Once someone comes forward and says he lied the first time, it takes a lot to convince a judge that the witness is now telling the truth.
"You've got a witness who comes in and admits he's a liar," Find toy said. "The irony, then, is that the conviction rests on the word of a liar."The Journal Times was unable to find Simpson.
I would lie, too
No matter what Jackson brings forward, perhaps the biggest obstacle he has to overcome is his own testimony.
Domingo Cruz, Jackson's trial attorney, didn't want Jackson to take the stand. He believes Jackson's insistence on taking the stand may have led to his conviction.
"That was probably not a really good idea," Cruz said. "As 1 recall it, he didn't come off well."
Jackson says he believes Cruz left him no choice but to testify. Jackson says he needed to tell jurors his story. When the judge asked if he wanted to testify, Jackson said yes. Cruz told the judge he advised against it, but Jackson went ahead.
"The only way I'd be able to explain my story is for (jurors) to hear from me." Jackson says now.
He told jurors his side of the story, but when Assistant District Attorney Zoe S towers ran the cross-examination, she attacked his credibility just as Cruz had done to the state's witnesses,
In particular, Jackson gave one answer that threw everything else he said into question. He said everyone involved in the crime was lying about him, and then elaborated.
"All the ones that was involved in the crime (are lying)," Jackson testified. "If I was involved in the crime I would lie, too, to prevent my name from coming up."
Jackson says now that he thought that statement would show his innocence “A person that's lying wouldn't have the courage to say something like that.” Jackson explained,” only a person telling the truth would have the guts to say something like that.”
In retrospect, Jackson sees his testimony in a neutral light.
"I don't think it went good, but I don't think it went bad, neither," he said. "I don't think it went bad to the point where I should have been found guilty. I never said anything that made people get the indication that I was guilty."
That's not the way prosecutors saw it. At a post-trial hearing, S towers, who helped convict Jackson in 1992, said:"If we eliminate all the testi¬mony, just look at Mr. Jackson's own testimony at his own trial, I believe he convicted himself. He made himself a party to this crime, being present when every action took place." .
No doubt for some
.Police don't think they got the wrong man.
Retired detective Jon Soder¬berg was one of the main in¬vestigators on the case. He said Jackson was a suspect right away, though testimony from a motion hearing before Jackson's trial seems to say otherwise. On June 19, 1992, Soderberg testi¬fied that when officers initially spoke to Jackson he was simply a witness.
In a September 2009 inter¬view, Soderberg said they looked at Jackson from the beginning. He remembers Jackson claiming to be a high-ranking member of the Shorty Vice Lords, some¬thing Jackson denies.
Soderberg said that if he be¬lieved someone had been wrong¬fully convicted of this crime, he would try to correct it.
"If I thought someone was an innocent person, I'd be the first to step forward," Soderberg said. "There's nothing worse than the government charging someone with a crime that shouldn't be. Geez. Can you imagine someone being locked up who didn't do anything?"
Jackson says that's exactly what has happened.
The District Attorney's Office is confident in the investigation and verdict.
- "We don't just take witnesses ' at their word," said District Attorney Mike Nieskes . Attorneys question witnesses' statements, and use other evi¬dence to verify the information. Still, it's not unusual for wit¬nesses to change their stories at trial.
"It's the responsibility of the jury to make a determination that they believe to be the truth," Nieskes said. "Do we have ques¬tions about witnesses when they testify? Yes. Do we find it unusual that persons involved in gangs, in the Department of Corrections, change their state¬ments from time to time? No. I don't find that unusual."
When prosecutors learn of re¬cantations, he said, their "ethi¬cal obligation is to always seek the truth. ... In Mr. Jackson's case, our determination is the jury verdict is the correct verdict."
" Jackson continues to send his argument to judges, hoping that one of them will believe him. He still hopes that, presented with all the information he's collect¬ed, police and prosecutors will take another look at the case.
He acts from a disadvantage. Jackson is incarcerated, with a criminal record that stretches back to childhood and facing life behind brick walls and razor wire. He represents himself.
Who would believe him ?
So far, no one has. But Jackson is trying again.
Armed with the affidavits, Jackson hopes a federal judge will agree that he has enough new evidence to try one more time.
If the court says no, Jackson's next chance to leave prison could be on Jan. 10, 2045, when he is first eligible to request parole. He will be 74. For now, he waits.