Tennessee woman who went to prison for murdering mother maintains she's innocent

PHOTO: Noura Jackson denies having anything to do with her mother Jennifer Jacksons death.PlayABC News
WATCH Teen says she came home and found mom covered in blood: Part 1

Noura Jackson, a Tennessee woman who spent years in prison after being convicted of murdering her mother, maintains she is innocent of the crime.

“Being incarcerated is tough in itself,” Jackson told ABC News “20/20.” “But being incarcerated for something you didn’t do is something else entirely.”

Watch the full story on ABC News "20/20" FRIDAY at 10 p.m. ET

Noura Jackson was 18 years old when she claims she found her mother, 39-year-old Jennifer Jackson, stabbed to death in their Memphis, Tennessee, home on June 5, 2005. Her mother, a successful bond trader and a triathlete, had been stabbed over 50 times in her bedroom and a basket had been placed over her face, according to police.

PHOTO: Noura Jackson, left, is pictured with her mother Jennifer Jackson, right, in this undated photo.Courtesy Noura Jackson
Noura Jackson, left, is pictured with her mother Jennifer Jackson, right, in this undated photo.

“As I went back to my bedroom I noticed that my mom’s door was open,” Noura Jackson said. “I don’t even think that I could even describe what I saw, let alone what I felt, but I found my mom.”

“She wasn’t moving,” Jackson continued. “I remember shaking her, and then I remember being scared. I remember running across the street to get help.”

After finding her mother’s body, Jackson ran to get a neighbor, who grabbed his gun and went back to the house with her, and Jackson called 911 and told them someone had broken into the house and her mother was bleeding. Jennifer Jackson was pronounced dead at the scene.

Three months later, Noura Jackson was arrested and charged with her mother’s murder. It was a very rare homicide case -- less than 1 percent of all murders are daughter-mother matricide, according to the FBI.

Unable to make bail, she spent three years in jail until her trial in 2009.

At trial, then-Shelby County Assistant District Attorney Amy Weirich argued that Noura Jackson, who admits she had a reputation for being a “wild child,” killed her mother to protect her partying lifestyle and raised suspicions about Noura Jackson’s behavior the night of the murder.

One example the prosecution pointed to was that during the 911 call, the 911 operator asked Noura Jackson if anyone had been shot and she said, “no,” but prosecutors argued there was no way for Noura Jackson to know for sure at that moment. Prosecutors also argued that when Noura Jackson brought the neighbor, who had his gun, back to the house with her, she went inside before he did, which they argued showed she knew there wasn’t an intruder hiding inside.

Noura Jackson said she was hysterical and wasn't thinking clearly. She also admitted to drinking and smoking marijuana that night.

“We had been drinking, amongst other things, but no, I didn’t kill my mother,” she said.

During her police interrogation, Jackson said she had been out at an Italian festival that night and then she went to two parties at friends’ houses the night her mother was killed. At 12:46 a.m., she told police went to a gas station to buy cigarettes. She then said she went to a friend’s house around 3:30 a.m., then at 4:20 a.m., she bought gas and headed home.

But authorities pointed out that there was no activity on her cellphone between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. Authorities also said Noura Jackson failed to disclose she had gone to a Walgreens at 4 a.m. that night to buy first aid supplies. Surveillance video from the pharmacy showed Noura Jackson asking a cashier for a paper towel for a bleeding cut on her hand and then showed her buying bandages and a bottle of hydrogen peroxide.

The police believe that Jennifer Jackson was killed between 1 am and 4 am on June 5. A number of prosecution witnesses also testified about the different reasons Noura had given them for the cut on her hand, from broken glass to barbed wire and cooking macaroni and cheese.

Noura Jackson claims she didn’t mention the pharmacy stop to police because she was nervous during interrogation.

“I just got the feeling that something wasn’t right,” Noura Jackson said. “So no, I was not forthcoming with information, but not because I had anything to hide, but because I felt like I was being looked at.”

Prosecutors argued that Noura Jackson murdered her mother to get access to money. Her uncle Eric Sherwood, Jennifer Jackson’s brother, testified that he heard Noura Jackson and her mother discussing her assets and life insurance policy about a week before his sister was killed.

“That’s the one that hurt me,” she said of her uncle’s testimony. “That’s the one that pierced my heart.”

This also wasn’t the first time Noura Jackson had lost a parent. Her father, Nazmi Hassanieh, had been shot and killed at a convenience store in January 2004. His murder remains unsolved.

Noura Jackson’s defense argued that all of the evidence presented at trial was circumstantial. The murder weapon has never been recovered, and none of Noura Jackson’s DNA was found at the crime scene, but DNA from two other unidentified females was found. There was also some blonde hair found in Jennifer Jackson’s hand and Noura Jackson’s hair is brown. That hair was never tested.

“They also want to say that I’m a diabolical killer and then they want to turn around and say I’m a pothead,” Noura Jackson said. “Anybody’s that’s familiar with those two characteristics, they don’t really go hand-in-hand.”

On Feb. 21, 2009, Noura Jackson was convicted of second-degree murder. She was sentenced to 20 years and nine months in prison and her attorneys filed for appeal.

The appeal made it all the way up to the Tennessee Supreme Court, and on Aug. 22, 2014, the court awarded Noura Jackson a new trial and overturned her previous conviction.

The court concluded that prosecutor Amy Weirich broke a legal rule, violating Jackson's fifth amendment right to not testify in her own defense, when she said to Jackson during her closing arguments, “Just tell us where you were. That’s all we’re asking, Noura.”

The court also said that the prosecution withheld potentially exculpatory evidence from the defense when it failed to disclose a statement its witness Andrew Hammack had given to police which contradicted his testimony and previous two statements. Hammack had written a third statement saying he was high on drugs the night of the crime and didn't even have his phone.

Jackson heard the news while watching television in prison.

“I was ecstatic,” she said. “I can’t even begin to express the emotions but it seemed surreal.”

Prosecutors faced challenges in mounting a retrial, as many of their witnesses refused to reappear or could not be located. So a compromise was reached. On May 20, 2015, Noura Jackson accepted an Alford plea, which means she acknowledged there was enough evidence to convict her of the crime but didn’t have to admit guilt. She pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and a reduced 15-year sentence. She was released 15 months later for time served.

Jackson said she accepted the plea deal because she felt “pressured” to, and because, “I wanted my life back,” she said.

“It’s very likely that it would have taken another year, if not two years, to have gotten her case to trial,” said Jackson’s defense attorney, Valerie Corder. “It is a way to end this decade-long drama and trauma with a finite date to be able to leave prison and begin your life.”

Weirich was facing ethics charges from the state stemming from the Jackson murder trial. Just this week, those charges were dropped after Weirich agreed to accept a “private reprimand.” When 20/20’s John Quinones met up with Weirich outside of the Shelby County Justice Center in Memphis, she said of Noura Jackson, “She killed her mother and did her time for it.”

Noura Jackson says she is now trying to rebuild her life. She got a job at a restaurant and she’s applying to colleges after earning her GED behind bars. Since her mother’s family does not support her, Jackson lived with Ansley Larsson, a family friend, when she was released from prison.

No one else has been charged in her mother’s murder, and Noura Jackson said she misses her every day.

“More than anything I just wish I could talk to her,” she said. “I think she would be proud of who I am.”

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