Update – August 27, 2014
A subsequent article on the Jackson ruling (see original post below) has revealed an important new detail about District Attorney General Amy Weirich’s record. According to Bill Dries at the Memphis Daily News, it seems that two of the Court of Criminal Appeals precedents that Weirich violated in Jackson were other cases in which she had committed misconduct. Dries reports:
The 52-page ruling and unanimous opinion in the Jackson case includes a footnote that refers to three appeals court rulings involving comments made by Shelby County prosecutors during closing statements.
“The prosecutor in Shelby County is doubtless well aware of these principles,” the footnote begins, referring to a part of the ruling in which the court emphasized that while closing arguments shouldn’t be “unduly restricted,” any remarks about a defendant using their right not to testify should be “off limits to any conscientious prosecutor.”
Weirich was a prosecutor in two of the cases – both involving the murder of an armored car guard in a 1997 robbery.
In both cases, higher courts found that Weirich’s comments at trial were improper even though neither case was ultimately reversed.
Original Post – August 25, 2014
Another murder case out of Shelby County has resulted in a judicial finding of prosecutorial misconduct. A Tennessee woman convicted of murdering her mother will receive a new trial following an August 22 ruling by the state supreme court that found that the state violated the defendant’s right to remain silent and withheld exculpatory evidence from her defense attorneys. Noura Jackson was charged with first-degree murder in 2005, and convicted of second-degree murder at trial in 2009. She received a sentence of 20 years in prison.
A press release from the Tennessee Supreme Court’s website describes the case and the court’s findings:
The Court explained that during the 2009 trial, the lead prosecutor impermissibly commented upon the defendant’s exercise of her state and federal constitutional right to remain silent and not testify at trial. In addition, the Court said the prosecutor violated the defendant’s right to due process by failing to turn over to the defense a statement a key witness gave to law enforcement officers investigating the murder.
…The defendant was charged with first degree murder, but she never admitted involvement in the crime, and no DNA evidence or scientific evidence implicated her. The prosecution’s case was based on circumstantial evidence alone.
The court’s unanimous decision (available here) follows on the heels of recent controversy around the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office’s failure to disclose favorable evidence in other murder cases, including Michael Rimmer (which led to the public sanction of longtime Shelby County assistant district attorney Thomas Henderson last year) and Timothy McKinney.
Recently re-elected District Attorney General Amy Weirich, who defended Henderson following the supreme court’s findings of misconduct against him, was herself responsible for the misconduct in the Noura Jackson case. The Memphis Daily News reports:
The remark in the court’s ruling was made by then Assistant District Attorney Amy Weirich, the lead prosecutor on the case, who was later appointed and then elected and earlier this month re-elected Shelby County District Attorney General.
In her closing statement to the jury, Weirich stood by Jackson and said “Just tell us where you were. That’s all we are asking, Noura.”
In its opinion, the court noted that Weirich’s comment came “at a critically important juncture in the trial — the prosecution’s final rebuttal argument to the jury,” after which the defense was unable to respond to the prosecution’s statements.
The court also found that testimony put on by the state about Jackson’s sex life and use of alcohol and drugs had a “prejudicial effect” that “may well have outweighed its probative value.”
The court’s 52 page opinion is available here.