In 1995, John Jackson, a 59-year-old cab driver, was arrested in Grant County, Washington, on a charge of distribution of cocaine.
Jackson went on trial on June 11, 1996, defended by Tom Earl, a private defense attorney who had taken over the public defender contract for Grant County Superior Court and whose caseload was more than 600 cases.
The case against Jackson was based on the testimony of two witnesses. The first was a police informant named James Allen Anderson, known as “Crazy Jimmy” by some and as “The Plate” by others because of a steel plate in his lower leg, who allegedly had bought cocaine from Jackson. The second was an undercover police officer who allegedly saw the transaction.
In a series of articles by the Seattle Times about the shoddy state of public defense lawyering in the state of Washington, Jackson’s case was highlighted. The newspaper said that when the trial began, Jackson complained that Earl had done no preparation.
When the judge asked what Jackson wanted, Jackson replied, “I would have him at least talk to me.”
Earl presented no defense witnesses, relying on his cross-examination of the officer and Anderson, though his questioning failed to reveal that Anderson had a serious mental problem.
Jackson was convicted and sentenced to six years and four months in prison.
Five years later, during a hearing on his petition for a writ for habeas corpus, Jackson returned to court with a federal public defender. Back on the witness stand, Anderson was asked by Jackson’s lawyer how he came to be an informant.
Anderson said that in 1993 or 1994, he had gone to a Grant County sheriff’s deputy and offered to show him how to find seven ounces of white powder. Anderson said that he told the deputy that he had the ability to solve crimes before they occurred and that he had told the deputy about the murder of Jon Benet Ramsey, the Green River killings and the Oklahoma City bombing before they occurred.
Anderson explained that even though none of those cases had actually happened yet, he was telling the deputy so that when they happened, he wouldn’t be blamed and so that the cases would be solved.
In his testimony, Anderson expressed disappointment that law enforcement did nothing with his information. “(T)here is only so much you can do when the law states it’s got to happen before you can charge a person,” he testified.
Jackson’s lawyer also showed that for the undercover officer to have seen the alleged drug deal, he would have had to see around a hairpin turn and down a hallway.
In November 2001, a federal judge set aside Jackson’s conviction, citing the prosecution’s failure to turn over evidence undermining Anderson’s credibility and Earl’s ineffective assistance. The charges were dismissed.
Jackson, who had already served his sentence, died a year later.
– Maurice Possley