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State v. Jackson

Supreme Court of Nebraska

June 23, 2017

State of Nebraska, appellee,
Earnest D. Jackson, appellant.

         1. Sentences: Appeal and Error. An appellate court will not disturb a sentence imposed within the statutory limits absent an abuse of discretion by the trial court.

         2. Judges: Words and Phrases. A judicial abuse of discretion exists when the reasons or rulings of a trial judge are clearly untenable, unfairly depriving a litigant of a substantial right and denying just results in matters submitted for disposition.

         3. Constitutional Law: States: Minors: Convictions: Sentences: Probation and Parole. It is unconstitutional for a state to impose a sentence of life imprisonment without parole on a juvenile convicted of a nonhomicide offense.

         4. Minors: Convictions. Juvenile offenders convicted of nonhomicide crimes must be given some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.

         5. Minors: Convictions: Homicide: Sentences. In Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012), the U.S. Supreme Court declined to extend a categorical bar of no life-without-parole sentences to juveniles convicted of homicide.

         6. Minors: Sentences. A sentencer must take into account how children are different and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.

         7. Constitutional Law: States: Courts: Time: Appeal and Error. When a new substantive rule of constitutional law controls the outcome of a case, the federal Constitution requires state collateral review courts to give retroactive effect to that rule.

         8. Minors: Convictions: Homicide: Sentences. A juvenile offender convicted of a homicide offense may be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole so long as the sentencer considered specific, individualized factors before handing down that sentence.

         [297 Neb. 23] 9. Sentences: Judgments. The appropriateness of a sentence is necessarily a subjective judgment and includes the sentencing judge's observations of the defendant's demeanor and attitude and all of the facts and circumstances surrounding the defendant's life.

         Appeal from the District Court for Douglas County: J Russell Derr, Judge. Affirmed.

          Jeffery A. Pickens, of Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy, for appellant.

          Douglas J. Peterson, Attorney General, and Melissa R. Vincent for appellee.

          Heavican, C.J., Wright, Miller-Lerman, Cassel, Stacy, Kelch, and Funke, JJ.

          FUNKE, J.


         In 2000, a jury found Earnest D. Jackson guilty of first degree murder but acquitted him of the use of a deadly weapon charge. The court sentenced him to life imprisonment for the first degree murder conviction. On direct appeal, we affirmed Jackson's conviction and sentence.[1]

         This is Jackson's appeal from the district court's order resentencing him for his first degree murder conviction. At the time of the crime, Jackson's age was 17 years 10 months. The resentencing was required under the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in Miller v. Alabama[2] and Montgomery v. Louisiana[3]and this court's decision in State v. Mantich.[4] Following a full evidentiary hearing and arguments, Jackson was resentenced [297 Neb. 24] in accordance with Nebraska statutes. Jackson appeals his resentencing. We affirm.


         Facts of Crime and Direct Appeal In Jackson's direct appeal, we set forth the facts upon which his conviction was supported. On August 31, 1999, Robert Sommerville, Shawon McBride, Dante Chillous, and Jackson were riding in a gray Cadillac, without a particular destination. They ended up near the Redman Apartments, where they conversed in the parking lot with a group of people. Sommerville testified that they spoke with Shalamar Cooperrider, then followed Cooperrider to his aunt's house, where Chillous and Jackson got out of the car. At some point, McBride picked up Cooperrider and Jackson at Jackson's house and dropped them off at an alley a block south of Redman Avenue.

         Lance Perry resided in an apartment located at 4614 Redman Avenue with his mother, Margaret Parrott, and his sister Elizabeth Williams. On the evening of August 31, 1999, Parrott and Perry were outside the apartment until Parrott went inside at 11:30 p.m. Perry stayed outside with Elexsis Fulton.

         While Perry and Fulton were still outside, Cooperrider approached Perry and the two began talking. Fulton, who had never met Cooperrider before that night, described him as "light brown" with a brush haircut, wearing a tan shirt and tan pants. During the conversation, two more men, whom Fulton described, respectively, as light-skinned with a ponytail and dark-skinned with braided hair and a blue "FUBU" brand shirt, came out of the apartment building one door north of Perry's door. At trial, Fulton identified the ponytailed man as Chillous and the man with braids and a FUBU shirt as Jackson. The jury received other testimony that Jackson did not have his hair in braids, but that Chillous wore his hair in a ponytail. Fulton observed Jackson, Cooperrider, and Chillous leave the Redman Apartments in a gray Cadillac after Cooperrider's conversation with Perry.

         [297 Neb. 25] After the Cadillac departed, Perry entered his apartment and retrieved a .22-caliber Ruger handgun. Parrott and Williams followed Perry out of the apartment, and Parrott observed Perry bending down beside a bush by 4612 Redman Avenue, the apartment building opposite 4614 Redman Avenue. Parrott reentered the apartment.

         Fulton testified that the gray Cadillac returned later that evening and that Jackson, Cooperrider, and Chillous got out of the Cadillac. Fulton further testified that Cooperrider had changed from tan clothing to black clothing. Fulton observed the three men approach Perry, at which time, Cooperrider and Perry began arguing. Chillous and Jackson went across the street to Chillous' home, and on their way back, Fulton saw Chillous try to hand Cooperrider a gun. Fulton testified that Jackson got involved in the argument, then pulled out a gun and struck Perry in the head three times. Fulton then ran inside the building and continued to watch from an upstairs window. Fulton testified that Chillous was the first to fire a gun and that he saw Perry being shot in the back while lying on his stomach.

         Fulton testified at Jackson's trial that he had no doubt that Jackson shot Perry. Fulton had not known the names of Jackson, Chillous, or Cooperrider before bystanders (who had not witnessed the shooting) told Fulton the names of the three men. Jackson's counsel read into evidence Fulton's testimony from the preliminary hearing that Fulton had learned Jackson's, Cooperrider's, and Chillous' names from the police. Fulton testified that he had identified Jackson, Cooperrider, and Chillous at the preliminary hearing as the men who shot Perry. Fulton had not previously identified Jackson in a photographic or police lineup.

         Parrott heard 20 to 30 shots that sounded as if they were coming from different types of guns at different distances; Williams testified that the sound resembled firecrackers. Parrott and Williams ran outside after hearing gunshots and found Perry on the sidewalk with bullet wounds in his stomach. Parrott [297 Neb. 26] removed a gun from Perry's belt and gave it to Williams, telling her to get rid of it. Parrott testified that when she removed Perry's gun by the handle, it was not warm.

         Williams testified to seeing a man, dressed in black with dark skin and a brush haircut, fleeing the scene after Perry's shooting, but she did not know and could not identify Jackson. McBride also testified that he saw a man in black firing a gun, standing by the bushes located near 4612 Redman Avenue. Although McBride did not see the shooter's face, he stated that the shooter wore the same kind of clothing Cooperrider had been wearing. McBride confirmed that he had seen Jackson with Cooperrider shortly before the shooting.

         Jackson's aunt testified that at 11:19 p.m. on August 31, 1999, Jackson knocked on her door, entered her home, talked with her, and went into her basement around 11:30 p.m. to play a video game. Approximately 20 minutes later, Jackson's cousin knocked on the aunt's bedroom door to get the cordless telephone and asked her if she had heard gunshots. She had not. Jackson's aunt and cousin testified that Jackson had stayed at the aunt's home that night.

         Officer Harold Scott of the Omaha Police Department arrived at the scene of the shooting at approximately 12:30 a.m. and discovered Perry's body on the sidewalk in front of 4614 Redman Avenue, surrounded by a crowd of people. Omaha police officer Stefan Davis, upon nearing the scene of the murder, was notified of people who had fled the area. Later, Davis received notification that all suspects were in custody. Jackson, however, was not arrested until October 9, 1999.

         Dr. Jerry Jones, who performed the autopsy, determined that Perry died of multiple gunshot wounds that perforated his heart, both lungs, liver, spleen, colon, and kidney. Jones testified that he had examined Perry's body thoroughly and that he did not see abrasions on Perry's head or scalp.

         Identical informations were filed against Jackson, Cooperrider, and Chillous in Douglas County District Court, charging each of them with first degree murder and use of [297 Neb. 27] a deadly weapon during the commission of a felony in the death of Perry. The cases were consolidated for trial on the State's motion, but the district court subsequently vacated this order on the State's motion. Jackson's trial, having the lowest docket number, began first, followed by Cooperrider's and Chillous' trials.

         The jury found Jackson guilty of first degree murder, but acquitted him of using a deadly weapon to commit a felony. Jackson then filed a motion for new trial, claiming that Fulton's testimony regarding Cooperrider and Chillous did not have proper foundation, that the jury's verdict was inconsistent and self-contradictory, that the court addressed the jury outside the parties' presence after the jury retired for deliberations, and that there was insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction of first degree murder. The district court overruled Jackson's motion and sentenced him to life imprisonment. Further facts surrounding Perry's shooting are set forth below as necessary.

         At Cooperrider's own trial, he testified that he was present at the scene, that he fired his handgun several times in self-defense, and that he did not see Jackson at the scene. Cooperrider also testified that Jackson was not one of the people who shot Perry. Instead, Cooperrider testified that Sommerville and one of Sommerville's friends were present at Perry's shooting. Cooperrider testified that Sommerville wore his hair in braids at the time of Perry's death, in a hairstyle similar to Jackson's. At Chillous' trial, Cooperrider again testified that Sommerville and a friend of Sommerville's were present at the scene of Perry's shooting, but he did not see Jackson or anyone else at the scene. Juries acquitted both Cooperrider and Chillous.

         Stephen Kraft, Cooperrider's attorney, submitted an affidavit stating that prior to Jackson's trial, Jackson's counsel contacted Kraft to inform Kraft of his intent to subpoena Cooperrider as a witness on Jackson's behalf for Jackson's trial. Kraft informed Jackson's counsel that because Cooperrider [297 Neb. 28] was awaiting trial on identical charges in the same matter, he would not be willing to testify and would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refuse to testify if called. Jackson served Kraft with a subpoena directing Cooperrider's ...

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