EJI Wins New Trial for Alabama Death Row Prisoner Esaw Jackson


The Alabama Supreme Court today reversed Esaw Jackson’s capital murder conviction and death sentence because highly emotional and prejudicial testimony from a victim’s mother regarding her opinion of Mr. Jackson’s guilt was illegally admitted at trial.

Esaw Jackson was charged with two counts of capital murder in the drive-by shooting deaths of two people in a car in Birmingham. At trial, the prosecutor presented testimony from a victim’s mother. Even though she was not present when the crime occurred, she was allowed to testify, while crying and describing how badly her son’s death had affected her, that she believed Mr. Jackson had killed her child.

EJI lawyers argued in the Alabama Supreme Court that Mr. Jackson’s trial was unfair for many reasons, including that this highly emotional opinion testimony from the victim’s mother improperly prejudiced the jury against Mr. Jackson.

The Alabama Supreme Court agreed and held that the jury should not have been allowed to hear the mother’s testimony that Mr. Jackson killed her son because she was not present and had no personal knowledge about who committed the shooting. Further, her highly emotional testimony about how her son’s death had impacted her should not have been permitted.

The court rejected the State’s argument that this improper evidence did not prejudice Mr. Jackson, citing the prosecutor’s reliance on it during his closing argument and the lack of evidence against Mr. Jackson. The court concluded that a new trial is required because the illegal evidence “affected Jackson’s substantial rights and likely had an unfair prejudicial impact on the jury’s deliberations.”

Mr. Jackson’s original appointed counsel raised no substantive issues concerning his trial on appeal at the Court of Criminal Appeals. Appointed lawyers in Alabama have compensation capped at $2000.