Nebraska Man Who Maintains His Innocence Is Denied A Pardon

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska man who maintains he wasn't even at a fatal 1999 shooting he was convicted of being involved in was denied a pardon Monday despite having the support of the victim's family.

Earnest Jackson asked the state Pardons Board in intervene in his case because two other men who were charged in the shooting of Larry Perry in Omaha were both acquitted, and one of those men took responsibility for the shooting and testified that Jackson wasn't there. That man claimed he shot Perry in self defense and was found not guilty. The third man was acquitted because of the second man's confession.

But Jackson, 40, had already been convicted before those other two trials were held and his court appeals have failed, so he has spent the last 22 years in prison.

Nebraska's top three elected officials — all Republicans — who serve on the board rarely approve any pardons. Gov. Pete Ricketts, Attorney General Doug Peterson and Secretary of State Bob Evnen didn't even discuss Jackson's case before voting to reject his application Monday along with three others.

Jackson won't be eligible for parole until 2029 on his 60-to-80-year sentence, but his lawyer, Daniel Gutman of Omaha, told the Nebraska Examiner online news site that it shouldn't even be legally possible for Jackson to be guilty of being an accomplice to a shooting done in self defense.

Jackson's supporters, like Jason Witmer of Lincoln who attended Monday's hearing, believe politics is playing a role in keeping him behind bars even with all the evidence in his favor.

“It’s not a gray area,” Witmer said to the Nebraska Examiner about whether Jackson is innocent. “But it is a gray area politically.”

As part of his application for a pardon, Jackson submitted letters of support from Perry's son and his girlfriend at the time of the shooting.

“I am speaking up and asking for a commutation of Earnest’s sentence because it is the right thing to do,” Perry's son, Mike Hatcher, said in a letter. “As a Christian, I believe in forgiveness and mercy. This will help me find healing even though I can’t change the past and meet my father. I hope that these words reach your hearts and lead each of you to grant Earnest a second chance at life to do impactful things in his community.”

Before Monday's hearing, Jackson told KOLN-TV in Lincoln that he hoped the Pardons Board would free him.

“A lot of people on the outside you know believe in our system,” Jackson said. “I’m a person that understands and believes in our system, but I also understand no system is perfect.”