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Posted Sep 1, 2011, 4:12 pm
A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that a lower court must reconsider Levi Jaimes Jackson’s claim that a judge gave faulty instructions to jurors who convicted him in connection with a 1992 Tucson carjacking and murder.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the jury instruction was unconstitutional and that the U.S. District Court in Arizona would have to reconsider Jackson’s claims, including the possibility that he had ineffective counsel at trial.
“Now that we’ve established that this instruction was wrong and that it is not constitutional, let’s talk about the fact that no one noticed it,” said John Young, the attorney who has represented Jackson since 1998. “This is a step toward a victory.”
Arizona Assistant Attorney General Diane Hunt, who argued the case in the appeals court, said Thursday that she had not yet read the opinion and declined to comment.
Court documents said Jackson was 16 on Dec. 7, 1992, when three men approached Patricia Baeuerle’s car while it was stopped at a Tucson intersection. One of the men pointed a gun at Baeuerle and told her to move over, at which point all three men got into the car.
They drove into the desert southeast of Tucson where Baeuerle was shot once in the heart and left to die. Her body was found several hours later.
Police arrested Kevin Miles two days later in Baeuerle’s car in Phoenix. Subsequently, they arrested Ray Hernandez and Jackson. Hernandez pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Jackson and Miles, who were tried separately.
At trial, prosecutors said Jackson’s fingerprints were found on the rearview mirror of the victim’s car and they presented a photograph of him using the woman’s bank card at an ATM. Witnesses also said Jackson had talked about the crime, which his attorneys tried to dismiss as the bragging of a teenager “acting tough,” according to court documents.
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Arizona law at the time required that in order for Jackson to be convicted of felony murder, the state had to show that the killing was done “in the course of and furtherance of” another felony crime.
The trial judge told jurors that they could convict Jackson of first-degree murder if it was committed “in the furtherance of” another felony. But the judge went to say “it is enough if the felony and the killing were part of the same series of events.”
The jury deliberated for seven hours before convicting Jackson of first-degree murder. He was initially sentenced to death, but that was later reversed because he was a minor at the time of the crime. He is now serving a life sentence.
The appellate court said that by adding the “same series of events” line at the end of his instructions, the trial judge negated the “in furtherance of” line that should have been the standard for a felony murder conviction. They said that was unconstitutional and ordered the lower court to reconsider Jackson’s claim.
“The actions that result in the murder have to further the underlying felony,” said Young. Since it was never proven that Jackson was the trigger man, he said, jurors essentially convicted him of murder for stealing a car.
Given that, Young said he will now argue to the district court that Jackson was inadequately represented by his former lawyers, resulting in an unfair trial.
“There’s blame to go around,” Young said of the flaws that went unnoticed by the former lawyers and the courts.