"Anybody who gets away with something will come back to get away with a little bit more."
It was the 5th of June 2005. A Sunday. Thirty nine year old Jennifer Jackson was at her Memphis home in Tennessee, United States. The night before, the 4th of June, Jennifer went to a Wedding and left around 11.30pm. Jennifer worked as a successful Bond Trader and had one child, an eighteen year old daughter, Noura Jackson. They lived in a beautiful home in an affluent part of Memphis.
Noura and Jennifer
Jennifer had Noura when she was just twenty years old. Jennifer was married to a former Lebanese Army captain, Nazmi Hassanieh, when Noura was born but they later divorced. As a result, Jennifer was a single mother and Jennifer and Noura spent a lot of time together when Noura was growing up. They were more like friends than mother/daughter.
Jennifer, Nazi and Noura
Noura reconnected with her father Nazmi when she was sixteen years old and began to spend more time with him but he was murdered a year later at the convenience store he owned. His killer was never found. Noura's relationship with her mother began to deteriorate. They were no longer like friends. They argued a lot about money and Noura's partying.
That day, the 5th of June, at around 5 am, Mayo Josiah Cocke heard loud banging at his front door. He lived across the street from Jennifer's house with his wife. His wife opened the door and Noura was standing at their front door screaming:
“My mom, my mom. Somebody’s breaking into my house.”
Mayo grabbed his pistol and followed Noura across the street and went into Jennifer's house. Noura went inside first and went to the back of the house, to the sunroom. Noura called 911:
‘‘Please, I need, I need an ambulance, I need an ambulance right now! Someone broke into my house. My mom — my mom is bleeding.’’
Noura told Mayo that Jennifer was in her bedroom. He entered the bedroom and saw Jennifer on the floor. She had no clothes on and was covered in blood. There was blood all over the bed. Jennifer's mouth was full of blood and she was not breathing.He knew she was dead and went back across the street to tell his wife. The two of them went straight back to Jennifer's house so they could be with Noura.
When the police arrived, Noura told them she arrived home at 5 am to find someone had broken in to her house. When police investigated the crime scene, they discovered a window broken on the inside garage door. Investigators found broken glass on the kitchen floor and due to that believed the window was broken from the inside. Furthermore, the hole it made lined up with a door lock that could be seen only from the kitchen. There were bloody shoe prints and drops of blood next to the prints on the kitchen floor. From the appearance of the crime scene in the bedroom, namely the blood all over the bed and the position of Jennifer's body on the floor, it appeared that Jennifer was in bed when she was attacked. She was stabbed over fifty times.
A couple of issues puzzled police from the outset. Firstly, while the window of the door was broken on the inside garage door, the outside doors were locked which would indicate someone would have had to be inside already. They also found it strange that Jennifer was stabbed so many times yet there was no sexual assault and nothing was taken. A basket had been placed over Jennifer’s head and based on that, police believed the person who murdered Jennifer must have known her and was close to her. They felt the broken window was staged to make it look like a break in and that the fact she was stabbed so many times with a basket over her head indicated it was a rage killing and the killer didn’t want to see her face during the attack.
Police searched the area and questioned neighbours. Nobody saw an intruder that night. The police questioned Jennifer's boyfriend, Pastor Mark Irvine. They had recently broken up. He called her around midnight on the night she was killed but told the police that he hung up before she answered and then went to sleep at his home, more than an hour from Memphis.
Noura and Jennifer
Police then began to question friends about the relationship between Jennifer and Noura. While some seemed to think the relationship was normal, others claimed they fought constantly and that Jennifer was concerned about Noura’s drug use.
They were having other issues too. Noura and her mother were struggling over whether to sell a few cars that Noura inherited from her father.
When interviewed by police, Noura told them she was driving around town the night her mother was murdered. She didn't give them all the details though. She didn't tell them that at 4am she stopped at a convenience store to buy a first aid kit and arrived home at 5am. Police only discovered that when they found the kit in her car and viewed CCTV Footage from the convenience store. She had a cut on her hand which she claimed she got the night before as a result of falling on a beer bottle. When friends were questioned about this, they didn’t know anything about it and told police she gave them different versions about how she got the cut. There were other details that police were not happy with and found unusual. She indicated she wanted to take a shower and fell asleep on the way to the station. When they arrived at Jennifer's home after Noura called 911, she was wearing a long sleeve sweatshirt. They found this strange as it was unusually warm that morning. Jennifer's sister also found it strange as it was the type of clothing that Noura would normally not wear. After police spoke with several people who knew both Jennifer and Noura, they were convinced that Noura was responsible for her mother's murder.
She was charged with first degree murder.
The Prosecution’s case was that Jennifer and Noura fought constantly and that Jennifer was annoyed that Noura used drugs. Jennifer’s sister gave evidence that Jennifer told her a week before she was murdered that she was done with Noura and told her she would either have to go to boarding school or move out. Noura’s friend gave evidence that the night Jennifer was murdered Noura told her that she hated her mother and wished she’d go to hell. Jennifer’s brother testified that Noura was asking questions about how much she’d inherit when her mother died. The Prosecution claimed that this coupled with the fact the break in looked staged, the fact it was a rage attack and that phone records showed she was at home at the time of the murder was proof that Noura murdered Jennifer.
The Prosecution called witness after witness to show that Noura was an angry teenager. A neighbor testified that just weeks before Jennifer's murder, she heard Noura demanding money from her mother ‘‘in a rage.’’ There was further evidence presented over their arguments involving selling her father's cars.
Other witnesses for the Prosecution testified about Noura’s partying, sex life and drug use.
The Prosecution also focused on the cut on Noura's hand and the account of her whereabouts that she gave to police and the very fact she left out that she stopped off at Walgreens at 4 am that morning. Her friend, Andrew Hammack, gave evidence and said Noura called him between 4 am and 5 am and asked him to meet her at her house.
It was their case that Noura was a wild child, fuelled on drink and drugs and wanted money. She did not want to have to follow any rules her mother made.
The Defense in contrast kept their case very simple as they felt the Prosecution did not prove their case. It was the Defense’s case that there was no evidence whatsoever that showed that Noura was guilty. The Prosecution's case was a circumstantial one and there was no physical evidence linking Noura to the murder. In fact, there was no DNA or blood that belonged to Noura in Jennifer’s bedroom and there was no blood on her clothes. DNA results from samples taken from the blood spattered around Jackson’s bedroom suggested that two or three people, whose identities were unknown to the police, had been in Jennifer’s bedroom. Noura’s DNA was excluded as a match for any of the three DNA profiles.
It was their case that police made numerous mistakes in the investigation. There was an unidentified DNA found on Jennifer’s sheets and Jennifer was clutching hair strands in her hand. Preliminary tests revealed the hair did not belong to Noura but conclusive tests were never carried out.
The Jury found Noura guilty of the second degree murder of Jennifer and she was sentenced to twenty years in prison.
Five days after the conviction, the Prosecution told the Court they forgot to share a note from Andrew Hammock with the Defense. In his statement, he admitted to using ecstasy on the night of Jennifer's murder. On the 22nd of August 2014, the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned Noura's conviction:
‘‘It is difficult to overstate the importance of this portion of Mr. Hammack’s testimony."
The note suggested that Andrew might not have told the truth when he testified that Noura called and asked him to meet her at her house. Due to that, the conviction was unsafe and as such, was overturned.
Noura’s case was given over to a neighboring district attorney’s office. This time, Noura was offered a deal and she accepted it. Noura took an “Alford plea.” A plea of this sort allows the defendant to assert their innocence but concede that the state has enough evidence to convict them. As a result , she served one extra year in prison. Noura was released in 2016. She spent eleven years in total in prison.
The Jury may not have reached a different verdict if they had the note at the first Trial but that's not the point. The Jury should have known about it, even if the outcome would be the same. It was the Prosecution's responsibility to share those details with the Defense and they failed to do so which resulted in the guilty conviction being overturned.
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- Sandra Pupatello