Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ex-Ultimate Fighter pleads guilty to sexual assault after trial and gets 25 years to life, but a juror says he's innocent

Guilty pleas generally must be respected absent some legitimate basis to reject them, but in a disturbing case out of California, a man who might just be innocent has pled guilty and is going to prison for a very long time.

Ex-UFC welterweight and "The Ultimate Fighter 4" cast member Jeremy Jackson, 28, was sentenced to 25 years to life for sexual assault. Jackson pleaded guilty to the charges against the advice of his lawyers following a three-week trial.

According to the Ventura County Star: "Jackson's lawyer, Russell Baker, said he was very disappointed by the way the trial, which lasted more than three weeks, concluded. Baker said he doesn't believe his client committed these crimes. He said the 'crushing weight' of the trial and the accusations were a heavy mental burden on Jackson. 'He just got broken down,' said Baker."

Is an innocent man heading off to spend much, if not all, of the rest of his life in prison?  It's not uncommon for a lawyer to believe in his client, but in a startling development, at least one juror, after hearing all the evidence, agrees that Jackson is innocent:

"A female juror in Jackson's trial asked the court if she could make a statement on Jackson's behalf. The prosecutor Thomas Dunlevy objected, saying the juror had no legal authority to do so. The judge said there was no value in allowing the juror to make the statement, reiterating the court's lack of sentencing discretion in this case. She allowed the juror to submit her statement to the court, which the judge read before sentencing Jackson. Outside the courtroom, the female juror said she believes Jackson didn't commit the rape but only pleaded guilty because he was depressed and wanted the trial to end. 'I really felt the defendant was innocent,' she said."  See here.

While the guilty plea did not occur during police interrogation, the possible mental strain on the young man could have produced a guilty plea motivated by pressures other than knowledge of his guilt. According to The Innocence Project: "In about 25% of DNA exoneration cases, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pled guilty. These cases show that confessions are not always prompted by internal knowledge or actual guilt, but are sometimes motivated by external influences."  Among the reasons are the threat of a harsh sentence and mental impairment.