MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) - For the first-time ever, the judge in the Noura Jackson case is speaking out. Not only does he think Jackson stabbed her mother to death in their East Memphis home, he thinks she may have had help.
Jackson was convicted in 2009 of killing her mother. In 2014 the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the conviction because of prosecutorial misconduct. Instead of going through another trial, Jackson pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, but continues to maintain her innocence. Only Local 24 was there, when she was released from prison in August.
"There is no question she committed the murder in my mind," said Judge Chris Craft, Shelby County Criminal Court Judge. Craft presided over Jackson’s three-week trial for the 2005 murder of her 39-year-old mother, Jennifer Jackson. He saw every piece of evidence, all the graphic crime scene photos. Someone stabbed Jennifer Jackson more than 50 times in her East Memphis home in June 2005. Prosecutors portrayed her 18-year-old daughter Noura as an out-of-control party girl.
"Why would someone kill their mother? It was because she was shutting down her lifestyle and was going to send her somewhere where she wouldn't be able to have sex and drugs. And there was the motive for her killing," said Craft.
According to prosecutors, Jackson started that June evening at the Italian Fest. From there they say she partied with friends, but according to prosecutors, there is a huge gap in time during the early morning hours. Surveillance cameras placed the teenager at a Walgreens, where she bought medical supplies for a cut on her hand at 4:00 in the morning. An hour later, she arrived home and called 911.
Craft told us he believes Jackson killed her mother that night, and for the first time the judge revealed this theory. "She may have had the help of one of her boyfriends, because there were several stab wounds. Some were deeper than others," said Craft.
"I honestly didn't think she would be convicted because of the lack of DNA evidence," said author Lisa Hickman, who was also in the courtroom for the entire trial. Hickman wrote a book about the murder called "Stranger to the Truth." Hickman says she was surprised by the verdict because the case was based completely on circumstantial evidence.
More than a decade after the murder, the Local I-Team went to the Supreme Court in Jackson, Tennessee, and dug into boxes and boxes of evidence in the Noura Jackson case.
We found stacks of crime scene photos, and the original video tape of the gruesome scene, recorded by police the day of the murder. Jurors also saw the tape. Hickman calls it a turning point.
"There was a shift that day. I noticed in the jurors; they looked at her much differently," said Hickman.
"Circumstantial evidence just drew a tight noose around her and there was no way she could get out of it," said Craft.
For Hickman, one of the most striking things was the cut on Noura Jackson's hand.
"That's always been something I could not get past. The cut on the hand, the trip to Walgreens. Very difficult to brush that aside," said Hickman.
Jackson's conviction on second degree murder was overturned several years later. One of the reasons: a key statement wasn't turned over to the defense until after the trial was over, and because of a statement made by now Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich during closing statements.
"When the verdict was set aside, frankly, I didn't agree with that, but I'm not the supreme court," said Craft. "I saw the whole trial. I dealt with it for three weeks, and it was feeling, and I ruled at the time she got a fair trial "
Jackson has always said she was innocent but after nine years in prison, she chose to plead guilty to manslaughter to get out of prison and avoid a second trial
"I think she knew if she went to trial, absolutely she would be convicted again," said Craft.
Prosecuter Stephen Jones is facing misconduct charges for not turning over a key witness statement. A legal panel is expected to rule on his case any day.
District Attorney Amy Weirich also facing misconduct connected to the case. Her hearing is next month.
We will follow both cases and let you know what happens.
Noura Jackson released this statement to Local 24 late Thursday.
"The TN Supreme Court Unanimously ruled that Chris Craft allowed prosecutors to flagrantly violate my constitutional rights on multiple occasions in my first trial. After he passed judgment on me, Chris Craft continued to sit as my judge despite his prior ruling about my case. I was not only denied a second trial date, this man refused to even hold a bond hearing for nine months after the Super Court opinion. Tonight's interview should give the public a small glimpse into my 11 year nightmare, and leaves no doubt about what was in my best interest. We have a justice system that is criminal."