A Nebraska man will spend at least seven more years in prison for a shooting that was not considered a crime and that he alleges he was never a part of after the state pardons board rejected his request to commute his sentence.
Earnest Jackson has spent 22 years incarcerated for the 1999 fatal shooting of Larry Perry. However, Jackson’s co-defendant Shalamar Cooperrider testified at his own trial that he pulled the trigger, and he was acquitted of murder in Perry’s death on grounds of self-defense. Cooperrider also testified that Jackson was not present during the crime, and a third man was also acquitted because of that confession.
However, Jackson’s trial came before that of Cooperrider, and an eyewitness had placed him at the scene. He was convicted of first-degree murder at 17 and remained in prison on a life sentence.
The son and girlfriend of the victim sent letters to the Nebraska Pardons Board in favor of Jackson’s release. Still, the board voted 3-0, without comment, on Sept. 19 to keep Jackson behind bars.
Gov. Pete Ricketts, a member of the pardons board, said Jackson had been cited 275 times while in prison. Attorney General Doug Peterson, also a member of the board, argued that a jury convicted the man based on additional evidence.
“There was more to the story,” Peterson said. “And we don’t retry cases on the Pardons Board.”
Earnest and his wife, Tracey Jackson, told WOWT that they were hopeful but not surprised. Earnest Jackson, now 39, had maintained innocence. He argued most of the citations were in his earlier years,
“We were hopeful, but we were also realistic. We didn’t go in thinking he was going to get it, but at the same token, how it all transpired was probably the worst part,” Tracey Jackson said.
On August 31, 1999, Jackson was riding around town with Dante Chillous and two other friends in a gray Cadillac. They ended up hanging out outside an apartment building in Omaha, Nebraska, with a group of other people, including Cooperrider. Sometime between 11:30 p.m. and midnight that evening, Perry was shot to death during a confrontation with several people, a shooting which Cooperrider later admitted to in court. He and Chillous, the other co-defendant, were arrested that night. Jackson’s aunt and cousin testified that Jackson arrived at her house at 11:19 p.m. and was there for the rest of the night.
Perry’s companion, Elexsis Fulton, said he saw as two men with Cooperrider who were “light-skinned with a ponytail and dark-skinned with braided hair and a blue ‘FUBU’ brand shirt,” outside of the apartment where Perry lived, court documents show. Testimony confirmed that Jackson did not have braids at the time, but Chillous did have a ponytail. Still, Fulton identified all three men as the suspects at a preliminary hearing.
Fulton said the trio left the apartment in the Cadillac after a conversation between Cooperrider and Perry, at which time Perry went into his apartment and grabbed a .22-caliber Ruger handgun. Perry’s mother testified that she saw him bend down beside a bush.
The Cadillac returned to the complex that evening, and Fulton testified that Jackson, Cooperrider and Chillous approached Perry. While Cooperrider and Perry were arguing, Fulton said that Chillous and Jackson went across the street to Chillous’ home and came back to arm Cooperrider with a gun. The witness said Chillous fired first and that Jackson shot Perry three times in the head. Jackson was arrested in October 1999.
The pathologist who performed the autopsy found Perry died of multiple gunshot wounds that perforated his heart, both lungs, liver, spleen, colon and kidney. Dr. Jerry Jones testified that he did not see abrasions on Perry’s head or scalp, court documents show. The jury acquitted Jackson of a deadly weapon charge, finding that he did not shoot Perry.
After filing several appeals, a lower court resentenced Jackson to 60 to 80 years in prison under new legal guidelines reversing life sentences for 17-year-olds.
In 2017, the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld his conviction and new sentence. The court concluded that Jackson’s sentencing followed the law and was also subject to the judge’s discretion.
The court also cited cases in which courts have held that the post-trial testimony of a codefendant or coconspirator who refused to testify at the defendant’s trial could not be included as “newly discovered evidence.”
“Instead, it was newly available evidence that did not provide a basis for a new trial,” the court’s decision said.
Allowing a new trial so Cooperrider could testify after the state could no longer retry him “would encourage perjury,” the court added. “We also reasoned that Jackson knew Cooperrider’s testimony would have been beneficial to him or he would not have attempted to secure it.”
Jackson’s supporters said his next route to fight for freedom was the sentence commutation and pardon. The board consists of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state.
“Two hundred and seventy-five violations is not the type of behavior we’re expecting from inmates who want a pardon,” Ricketts said.
Jackson supporters argued that only four of the disciplinary write-ups were in the past seven years and another inmate admitted to the most serious charge in a letter. They also said the board disregarded a commendable write-up he received for preventing a fight.
“Do you know him? He’s a decent human being,” said Lorene Ludy, a prison volunteer who works with Jackson on presentations to other inmates about alternatives to violence. “I see him every Saturday.”
“I was hoping that you’d err on the side of mercy,” Ludy pleaded with the governor.
Perry’s son and Jackson’s attorney did not get the opportunity they wanted to speak to the board during the hearing. Ricketts said the board can reject requests unanimously without comment based on the “gravity of the facts.” He told reporters that some of the victim’s family members also opposed the commutation.
Jackson said he takes responsibility for every one of the citations, but they could be “as simple as allowing somebody else to read a book, and they get in trouble, get caught reading this book and it’s my property.”
Peterson argued that evidence shows Perry was shot with a .22-caliber, a .40-caliber and a 9 mm — and that other eyewitnesses also placed Jackson at the scene of the shooting.
Court documents show the victim’s sister told the court that she saw a man dressed in black with dark skin and a brushed haircut fleeing the scene after Perry’s shooting, but she did not know and could not identify Jackson. Shawon McBride, who initially arrived at the complex with Jackson and Chillous, said he saw Jackson with Cooperrider shortly before the shooting. Jackson’s aunt testified that his cousin asked her if she heard gunshots around 11:50 p.m., 20 minutes after Jackson went to her basement to play a video game.
Jackson will be eligible for parole in 2029. In the meantime, he and his supporters plan to push state lawmakers to pass the Nebraska Post Conviction Act, which determines when a new trial may be available after someone has already been convicted.
“We don’t like the decision, we don’t agree with the decision, but we’re going to respect the decision, right,” Jackson said.