S1/E1: Noura and Jennifer Jackson

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November 10, 1965

Savannah, Georgia

Jennifer Schroeder Jackson was born to Linda and Bo Jackson. Jennifer grew up with two sisters, but when Linda and Bo divorced a few years later, it tore their family apart. Friends of the family said that Linda essentially abandoned her daughters along with her husband.  Linda’s struggle with alcoholism was in large part to blame for the dysfunction of the family. When Linda remarried in the early 70’s they made the move to Orlando, Florida.

1980

15-year-old Jennifer and her sisters decided they did not want to live in Florida, so the three moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where they lived with their aunt and uncle.

Despite her rough childhood, Jennifer grew to be an exceptional young woman. The tall, blonde athlete was intelligent and ambitious.

She attended Memphis State University where she met fellow undergraduate Nazmi Hassanieh. Nazmi was an outgoing charmer, described by friends as “the life of the party” and was as visually different from Jennifer as he could be. The Lebanese Foreign national was 5’5 and stocky, but his personality won Jennifer over.

December 13, 1986

Jennifer and Nazmi were married at the St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Memphis.  Jennifer was six months pregnant. This fact most likely hastened their decision to tie the knot.

March 17, 1987.

The newlyweds brought their first and only child, Noura, into the world. The couple divorced just six months later.  

Jennifer won sole custody of Noura in the divorce. Over the years, Jennifer remarried and divorced, and the family made multiple moves. It was later claimed that as a result of this “instability”, Noura fell in with a bad crowd as she reached her teens.  Drug use, underage drinking, and a lack of interest in education all led to a strained relationship between Noura and her mother. Noura was also said to have been prone to fits of anger. Honestly, these traits are not altogether abnormal for a teenager growing up in America. I know my own teenaged years certainly ticked a few of these boxes.

 

January 26, 2004. 10:00 PM

Nazmi Hassanieh was in the office of his Kwik Stop gas station in Southeast Memphis, when a gunman entered. The assailant waved off patrons as they pulled up to the business.  Nazmi was shot dead, just out of range of the security camera. In an effort to conceal his identity, the murderer took a surveillance tape, but did not realize it was not the active tape. The footage from the active camera showed that this was not just an armed robbery gone wrong. In fact, Police called the killing an assassination.

While the gunman was shown taking money from the cash register, he was also seen searching Nazmi’s office, seemingly with a specific purpose.  What it was and whether he found it is unknown. The killer was never identified and Nazmi’s murder remains a cold case.

Even though they were long divorced, Jennifer Jackson still inherited Nazmi’s estate. The estate was worth nearly one and a half million dollars.

 

June 4, 20005

Jennifer Jackson had been seeing off-and-on boyfriend Mark Irvin since 2003. She called Mark in the morning, hoping to attend church together the following day, and offering to take him out for his birthday. Mark turned her down, but later said while she was disappointed; he and Jennifer ended the conversation on good terms.

Later that day, Jennifer drove to  her friend Jimmy Tual’s house. Jimmy drove Jennifer to the wedding of a mutual friend in downtown Memphis. While Jennifer ate and drank alcohol at the reception, by all accounts she was never intoxicated. Jimmy and Jennifer left the reception and went to the Cockeyed Camel, a Memphis bar. They bought each other one drink, and left. Her credit card statements reflected that her card was used at 11:06 PM. Jimmy then drove Jennifer back to his house and stated that she left in her car around 11:30pm.

 

June 5, 2005 5:00 AM

Joe and Rachel Cocke lived across the street with Joe’s mother, Sheila. They were suddenly awakened by banging on their door, accompanied with the screams of a young woman.  “My mom, my mom! Somebody’s breaking into my house!” It was Noura Jackson.

Joe grabbed a pistol, thinking there was an intruder at the Jackson house. He and Noura ran across the street. Joe paused at the front door. Noura ran past him and into the sunroom at the back of the house, where she dialed 911.

Joe looked through the house but didn’t see anyone.  He looked to Noura- “Where’s your mother?” Noura responded, “She’s in her room. She’s in her room.”

Joe walked down the hallway towards Jennifer’s bedroom. He looked in and saw her body lying on the floor, nude and covered with blood. He ran back home to get his wife. Rachel and Joe returned to the Jackson home, where, according to Joe’s later testimony, Noura was sitting on the sunroom floor in a fetal position, rocking and wailing.

Joe saw bloody shoe prints and drops of blood in the foyer. He noted that the kitchen door’s window had been broken out.  Rachel tried to console Noura, who was hysterical and repeatedly asking “is she dead? Is she dead?”, then allegedly said “What am I going to do? I just lost my dad. Why is this happening to me?” Rachel did not notice any blood on Noura.

Police arrived at 5:15Am.

After securing the house, police officers waited for the Crime Scene Investigation Unit.  Paramedics soon arrived at the house, but Jennifer was beyond help. Her body lay on the floor in front of the bed, with a two-foot long brown basket turned upside down in order to cover her head and face.  

Chances are you already know that it’s not unusual for a murder victim’s eyes to be covered when the killer is a relative or significant other.  Despite their willingness to take another person’s life, the killers often can’t stand to look at the face of their victim, especially if the eyes are open and seemingly fixed on their murderer as if silently accusing them.

Jennifer Jackson had been stabbed 51 times, mostly in her stomach, chest and neck.  Cuts also appeared on her fingers and hands, consistent with defensive wounds. She was declared dead on the scene at 5:18am. She was just 39 years old.

Paramedics performed a basic visual assessment of Noura and found that she was not under the influence of any drugs and did not seem disoriented. When asked at the scene by police if she knew anyone that could have done this to her mother, Noura answered that Jennifer’s boyfriend was quote unquote an asshole, but even he wouldn’t do something like this”. Shortly after that statement, Noura told the police that she was tired, and wanted to sleep.

The CSI unit arrived and took over 200 photos and collected physical evidence. While they were thorough, they could not obtain good fingerprints or any viable DNA evidence.

As the only other occupant of the house, investigators turned to Noura, but she had an alibi- she was out all night. She had attended the Italian Festival- an annual weekend long event held in the middle of East Memphis. She then went to a party, before spending time with her boyfriend, Perry Brasfield. She stopped at Taco Bell for food, then to buy cigarettes at a gas station before heading home. Noura even supplied the receipt for or her purchase at the gas station, time stamped 4:20 that morning.  

Police noticed that Noura’s left hand was bandaged between the thumb and forefinger. Hand injuries are common in cases like this, as the killer’s hand will slip past the hilt when the knife strikes the victim’s bones.

When asked about it, she explained that she fell on a broken bottle at the Italian Festival.

Genevieve Dix was one of Jennifer’s closest friends, and an attorney. Noura had called her for consultation when Police asked Noura to sign a consent-to-search form, allowing them to enter and search the Jackson house. She arrived on the scene around 7am. Dix noted several things about Noura that contradicted her story of being out all night before discovering her mother’s body. For one thing, Noura was a smoker, yet her hair smelled fresh, like it had been recently washed.  She also noticed Noura’s face was clean. She usually wore heavy makeup, especially if she was going out. Dix noted that Noura was wearing a plain grey sweatshirt. Not the trendy clothes she usually wore.

Dix later testified that Noura was concerned that police would be able to access her Jeep. She didn’t understand why Noura was so worried about a search of her vehicle, so she pressed her on it. Noura told Dix that she had a bong in the car and didn’t want to get in trouble. Dix found this odd, as Noura had just found her mother brutally murdered. But, perhaps it was a combination of sleep deprivation and shock that clouded Noura’s priorities.

Perry Brasfield showed up to lend support to his girlfriend.  He noticed Noura’s hand and asked what had happened. Noura explained that she was chasing her kitten in the kitchen and cut her hand on the broken glass from the kitchen door. Genevieve Dix overheard this conversation, and noted that she gave a different story.

Later that day, family friend, Regina Hunt took Noura to her home, as Noura temporarily had nowhere to live. On the way, Noura asked if they could stop at Memorial Park, where Anna Menkel was buried.  Anna was Noura’s friend, and had died in a car accident six months earlier. While at the grave, Noura sobbed. It was the only time Regina saw her cry. After arriving at the house, Regina noticed that Noura was defensive when confronted about conflicting details in her story. Noura originally said she returned home and sneaked back out. She later said she had driven by her house but decided not to go home.

There was other strange behavior. Noura said she wanted to have a party that night. Regina told her that wasn’t a good idea. Noura then said she wanted to go to the movies.  Regina told her she wasn’t going anywhere and needed sleep. Noura stayed the night, and while she slept, Regina looked through her purse. She found a bottle of prescription pills with someone else’s name on the label.

 

June 6, 2005

When confronted the next morning about the pills, Noura at first claimed they were her prescription, and then admitted she bought them illegally. Noura expressed to Regina that she wanted to go shopping and tanning. When Regina refused to take her, Noura called Kathy Menkel- Anna’s mother. She spent that day and night at the Menkel home.

 

June 17th 2005

Police obtained a warrant to search Noura’s Jeep Cherokee. Inside they found two Walgreens bags. In the bags were several first aid supplies, including First Aid tape, an empty box of liquid bandage drops and skin shield liquid bandage.

Detectives reviewed Walgreens security tapes from the morning of the murder. Noura was caught on video, buying the first aid supplies found in her car. The time stamp on the video was 4:01. Curiously, she paid for these items in cash, but used her credit card for the gas station purchase less than an hour later.

September 29, 2005

After three months of investigation, Noura was arrested for the murder of Jennifer Jackson. She was charged with first degree murder. There was no murder weapon and no forensic evidence. Just circumstantial evidence- and a motive.

 

Early 2009

After a three-year wait, the trial was finally held at the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center in downtown Memphis.  Noura chose not to testify and faced a life sentence if convicted of first degree murder.

Prosecutors claimed that Noura was angry with her mother for withholding her inheritance. Jennifer refused to give Noura any of the money fearing she would spend it on drugs. Instead, she wanted to use the money to pay Noura’s college tuition.  Jennifer was also said to have disapproved of Noura’s boyfriend.  Along with these motives, and no other leads, the cut on her hand was even more suspicious. When asked about it, Noura gave differing explanations. She initially told the police that she had cut it when she tripped and fell on a broken beer bottle at the Italian Festival.  It was posited that she received the injury during the assault on her mother. They said that she saved the time-stamped receipts for her gas and cigarettes purchases simply to establish an alibi.

 

March 27, 2009

After two weeks and more than 40 witnesses and nearly 400 exhibits, a verdict was reached.  The jury of four men and eight women had deliberated for nine hours and ultimately found Noura Jackson guilty. But they rejected the premeditated first degree murder charge. Instead, she was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 20 years and 9 months, with no parole, minus the three years served while awaiting trial.

Jennifer Jackson’s best friend and attorney, Genevieve Dix read this victim-impact statement from Jackson’s family:

“The horror of it all is only heightened by the fact that Noura has never shown any remorse, never shown any grief.  It seems that she has no compassion, no sorrow, and no regrets. She did not take so much as a moment to mourn her mother’s death. Rather, she was impatient to get back to an amoral life of drugs and partying.”

During a five-hour sentencing hearing, Criminal Court Judge Chris Craft said “Noura killed the only person who really loved her. All she wanted was to be free and have her money. Her mother wanted her to go to college. It’s just a tragedy that this happened, but no one could control her.”

 

But did Noura really brutally stab her own mother? If it wasn’t her… who else would have a motive to murder Jennifer Jackson?

 

Was it more than coincidence that Jennifer Jackson was killed just a year after Nazmi Hassanieh’s murder? Noura herself felt there was a connection between the two murders.

Court documents filed in 2016 raised new questions. It was revealed that Hassanieh ran a limousine company out of his gas station. At the time, a strip club called Platinum Plus was operating just across the street.

Members of the Los Zetas drug cartel were alleged to have conducted drug deals in Hassanieh’s limos… deals that were most likely caught on Hassanieh’s security videotapes. It’s also alleged that there may have been tapes showing illegal activity connected to the owner of the Platinum Plus club. Police thought Hassanieh himself might have been involved in prostitution and drug trafficking. But how does this tie into Noura’s defense? Well, these videotapes were said to have been in the possession of Jennifer Jackson.

July 2009

Noura Jackson’s defense team filed a motion for a new trial based on trial errors and inadmissible evidence. The appeal was denied.

September 7th, 2011

Another appeal was filed. This time, the court ruled that there were indeed constitutional errors during the 2009 trial. The lead prosecutor had allegedly made improper arguments and withheld evidence.  These prosecutorial mistakes entitled Noura Jackson to a new trial.

May 20th, 2015

Nearly four years after her appeal, Noura Jackson had a retrial. She accepted an Alford plea, which enabled her to accept a guilty plea while still asserting her innocence. The Alford plea is named after Henry Alford,  but is perhaps most well-known for allowing the West Memphis Three to finally be released from prison in 2011.  In Noura’s case, the plea included a 15 year sentence for voluntary manslaughter. She had already served 10 years of her original 20 year sentence. Lowering the sentence meant Noura had already served 60 percent of the time, which made her immediately eligible for parole.

AUGUST 7th, 2016

After nearly 11 years behind bars, Noura Jackson was granted parole. She was free,  to the dismay of many, including her own family.  

She issued this statement to news reporters:

“I am so thankful for the friends, lawyers, and family who supported me throughout the last eleven years. One long, dark chapter of my life ended this morning, and today I enjoyed small pleasures you all take for granted, like a good cup of coffee, the smell of fresh flowers, painted toenails, and a trip to Target. In the next chapter of my life, I plan to honor my mom by forcing the State of Tennessee to identify the person whose complete DNA profile was mixed with my mother’s blood in her bed. I have been greatly disappointed in the justice system, but I still hope for justice in the upcoming ethical misconduct trials of Prosecutors Amy Weirich and Steve Jones. Despite many requests today, I will not be giving interviews until I settle into a new life. I will not grant any future interview to those who cannot respect my present desire to be alone for the first time, in a very, very long time.”

While the case of Jennifer Jackson’s murder is technically closed, the question of Noura’s guilt, along with the unsolved murder of Nazmi Hassanieh leaves the family and friends of Jennifer Jackson with no closure.

 

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