Isabel Shepherd ’20

The first forum of the year, featuring Jason Flom and Noura Jackson, was a resounding success. Flom began with an entertaining, if a bit unorthodox, introduction detailing his experience in the music industry as CEO of Lava Media and his path to the Innocence Project. Flom shared anecdotes about his father, Kid Rock, and many others, before introducing his fellow speaker, Noura Jackson.

Jackson was a former Innocence Project client who was wrongfully convicted of her mother’s murder in 2005. Despite a total lack of physical evidence, Jackson spent three and a half years in jail before her trial, and she was found guilty of second-degree murder in 2009. Jackon’s recollection was part cautionary tale; she explained how the prosecution relied heavily on friends and colleagues who characterized her as reckless because of her partying, sex life, and occasional drug use. The only witness who placed Jackson at the scene of the crime, Andrew Hammack, gave a note to the police that “raise[d] questions about his credibility” in the original trial, but it was not submitted to Jackson’s case until five days after her guilty verdict. In August 2014, the Tennessee Supreme Court unanimously overturned Jackson’s conviction, but by that time she had already been incarcerated for nine years. Despite the Tennessee Supreme Court’s decision, Jackson was moved from prison to jail, where she awaited her hearing. Jackson waited for five months, but the judge assigned to her case, Judge Chris Craft, still refused to hold a bond hearing. On May 20, 2015, Jackson signed an Alford plea, “which allows a defendant to acknowledge that the state has enough evidence to convict her while she maintains her innocence.” However, Jackson remained in prison for another year because she did not have enough credits for release, despite being told by the Tennessee Department of Corrections that she would have a same-day release. Jackson served out her sentence and was released after eleven years in prison.

During the question and answer portion of the forum, both Flom and Jackson emphasized the importance of being active in local and state elections. For Jackson, the district attorney played a key role in her wrongful conviction, so she was insistent on the importance of voting for smaller, more overlooked positions (It is important to note that in Delaware, due to the state’s small population, there are no district attorneys, only the Attorney General, a position currently held by Kathy Jennings). When an audience member asked Jackson if she felt resentment or anger, she said no. Jackson stressed the amount of privilege she benefited from throughout her trial. Both Flom and Jackson brought attention to the many people of color serving lengthy sentences in the U.S. prison system either for wrongful convictions or low-level drug convictions and the injustice the system perpetuates.

Overall, this first forum provided an engaging and moving insight into the state of the U.S. criminal justice system, and hopefully it will spark conversations about criminal justice reform both at school and in the larger community.

Sources:

Bazelon, Emily. “She Was Convicted of Killing Her Mother. Prosecutors Withheld  the Evidence That Would Have Freed Her.” The New York Times [New York City], 1 Aug. 2017. The New York Times, www.nytimes.com/2017/08/01/magazine/ she-was-convicted-of-killing-her-mother-prosecutors-withheld-the-evidence-that-wo   uld-have-freed-her.html. Accessed 2 Dec. 2019.

For a footnoted version of this article, contact ths2026@towerhill.org or ths2052@towerhill.org.