Nebraska Pardon board unanimously decides to keep Earnest Jackson in prison

Sept. 19, 2022, 4 p.m. ·

Earnest Jackson's family talks to reporters outside the Nebraska state capitol
From left to right: Nai Greer, Tracy Jackson, Brenda Jackson-Williams and Remee Greer talk to reporters after the Board of Pardon's hearing. (Photo by Will Bauer, Nebraska Public Media News)

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The Nebraska Board of Pardons unanimously voted to deny Earnest Jackson’s commutation request for immediate release on Monday.

Jackson’s family, friends, lawyers, volunteer groups – and the victim’s family – all say Jackson did not kill Larry Perry – a crime which Jackson has served 22 years in prison for.

“I'm so hurt that I'm speechless,” said Jackson’s sister, Remee Greer. “I came here optimistic, hoping for the best, praying for the best but understanding how things go.”

The board, whose members include Gov. Pete Ricketts, Attorney General Doug Peterson and Secretary of State Bob Evnen, did not take any testimony or make any public comment. The three made their decision based solely on the information they already had.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, Doug Peterson and Bob Evnen sit at the Nebraska Board of Pardons meeting
Pete Ricketts, Doug Peterson and Bob Evnen sit at the Nebraska Board of Pardons meeting. (Photo by Will Bauer, Nebraska Public Media News)

“The underlying charge against Mr. Jackson is first degree murder," Gov. Ricketts wrote in a statement. "While serving his sentence, Mr. Jackson has amassed a record of 275 separate misconduct reports. That averages out to over 12 misconduct reports for each year he has served. Additionally, there are family members of the victim who conveyed their opposition to granting a commutation. Due to these facts, the Pardons Board has unanimously determined to deny Mr. Jackson a commutation of his sentence.”

The offices for the attorney general nor secretary of state did not respond to Nebraska Public Media’s requests for comment.

“We knew it was an uphill battle,” said Tracy Jackson, Earnest’s wife. “We were just hopeful that they would see Earnest as a whole and not just a piece of paper and a number.”

In the fall of 1999, Omaha police arrested Jackson in connection with the death of the 17-year-old Perry in North Omaha. Police also arrested two others: Shalamar Cooperider and Dane Chillous.

Jackson was tried first and convicted of first degree murder thanks to an eyewitness who placed him at the crime scene.

Jurors acquitted the two others arrested – after determining Cooperider killed Perry in self defense.

Prosecutors stood by Jackson’s verdict. The U.S. Supreme Court re-sentenced the now 40-year-old in 2016 to 60 to 80 years in prison after deciding a minor couldn’t serve a life sentence. Jackson was 17 at the time of the killing. The Nebraska Supreme Court also affirmed the jury’s decision.

Earnest Jackson's lawyer, Daniel Gutman, speaks to the press
“Earnest Jackson is serving a legally impossible sentence,” said Daniel Gutman, Jackson's lawyer. (Photo by Will Bauer, Nebraska Public Media News)

The Flatwater Free Press reported Mike Hatcher, the son of Larry Perry, and Elizabeth Smith, Hatcher’s mother, both submitted written testimony supporting Jackson’s release. Daniel Gutman, Jackson’s attorney, said they attended Monday’s hearing.

Jackson is eligible for parole in 2029, but his advocates said that's too long to wait.

“Earnest Jackson is serving a legally impossible sentence,” Gutman said. “He has served over 22 years for being an accomplice to a crime that didn't exist.”

Gutman said he isn’t exactly sure what steps are next, but he said “nothing is off the table.”

On the steps of the capitol building, Jackson’s family and friends gathered after the decision. The group stood shoulder-to-shoulder and stood in silence for a few minutes.

“They bent us, but they didn’t break us,” said Jackson’s mother, Brenda Jackson-Williams. “Our marathon continues.”

An Earnest Jackson sits in front of the Nebraska state capitol
A sign for Earnest Jackson sits outside the Nebraska State Capitol. (Photo by Will Bauer, Nebraska Public Media News)