UPCOMING EXECUTION: Virginia Jurors Never Heard Critical Evidence of Childhood Abuse

va_clipLawyers for Jerry Terrell Jackson, who is currently facing execution in Virginia on August 18, recently petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to spare Jackson's life, arguing that the jury in his 2003 trial did not receive sufficient evidence of the abuse he suffered as a child because his trial lawyers were inadequate. Jackson's current lawyers told the Court that this evidence could have convinced some jurors not to impose a death sentence: "This Court has repeatedly held that, before a defendant is sentenced to death, a jury must be given the opportunity to consider and confront available mitigation evidence, including evidence of serious childhood abuse, relevant to assessing a defendant’s moral culpability."  Clinical Psychologist Dr. Matthew Mendel, who appears in a clemency video prepared by Jackson's lawyers (left), said of Jackson's trauma, "People abused by parents or parental figures are those with the poorest prognosis.  Jerry Terrell Jackson was not someone who was engaged in extreme misbehaviors to which the family responded.  Child protective services referred to what the parents did to him as 'planned, calculated beatings.'"  A federal District Court judge previously ruled that Jackson was entitled to a new sentencing hearing, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently reversed the ruling, holding that federal review was restricted to what had been presented in Virginia courts. Jackson also has a clemency petition pending with Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who could commute Jackson's sentence based on the evidence of family abuse that the jury never heard.  (Click image on the left to view video.  Caution: portions of the video discuss particularly disturbing examples of abuse.)

("Appeal for Va. inmate facing execution," Associated Press, August 6, 2011).  See Clemency, Representation, and Arbitrariness.  For more information on Jackson's case, see Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.