On May 26, 2006, Willie Jackson was exonerated after postconviction DNA testing proved his innocence of a 1986 sexual assault. His conviction had been overturned on August 24, 2005, after DNA testing proved that he was not the depositor of semen found on the victim’s pantyhose. After further DNA testing proved that the semen was consistent with Jasckon’s brother Milton, the prosecution dropped all charged against Willie Jackson. He had spent 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
On December 12, 1986, the victim left a bar in Marrero, Louisiana, and went to a restaurant to get breakfast for her son. As she was exiting her car at the restaurant, she noticed a piece of paper on her windshield and put it in her pocket. A man then came up behind her and ordered her into his car. Once in his car, the man bit her several times and performed oral sex on her. He then raped her and dropped her off in a nearby neighborhood. The man told her that no one would help her because she was black.
Police identified their suspect from the piece of paper found on the victim’s windshield. It was a bank receipt bearing the name of Willie Jackson. Willie Jackson had moved to Natchez, Mississippi, eight months before the crime, 185 miles away from Marrero. His mother and brother, however, still lived in the area. When police searched Willie Jackson’s mother’s house, they found a sweater with the name “Milton” on it that was similar to the one described by the victim. Additionally, Jackson’s mother drove a car similar to the victim’s description.
Willie Jackson’s photograph was placed in a photographic lineup and was identified by the victim. She then identified Jackson in a live lineup.
The Biological Evidence
A forensic odontologist testified at trial that the bite marks on the victim matched Willie Jackson, saying: “My conclusion is that Mr. Jackson is the person who bit this lady.” Because there is not adequate empirical data on bite mark analysis, the analyst’s assertion that the bite mark came from Jackson was inherently prejudicial and lacked probative value. A rape kit was collected from the victim and no semen was detected.
The Alternate Suspect
Just days after Willie Jackson was convicted, his brother, Milton Jackson, confessed to the rape. The bartender testified that he saw Milton Jackson in the bar the same night as the victim, but that Willie Jackson was not in the bar. The victim testified that the perpetrator complained of his military service as a reason that he could not meet women. Milton Jackson is an Army veteran. When the victim viewed Milton Jackson in a lineup, however, she stated that he was not the man that attacked her.
Martin Regan, Jr. and Karla Baker of Regan and Associates in New Orleans, Louisiana took on Willie Jackson’s case. They found an independent forensic odonotologist who concluded that the bite marks were not from Willie Jackson, but from his brother Milton. A handwriting expert also found that the note on the bank statement had been written by Milton, not Willie Jackson.
In June 2003, DNA testing was ordered in Willie Jackson’s case. In 2004, Reliagene tested semen found on the victim’s pantyhose and found that Willie Jackson could not have deposited the semen. Jackson subsequently won a new trial and was released on bail. In April 2006, the Bode Technology Group released a final report of DNA testing results. Semen from the pantyhose did not match Willie Jackson but did conclusively link Milton Jackson. Milton Jackson was already serving a life sentence for an unrelated 1998 rape.
On May 26, 2006, 17 years after he was wrongfully convicted, all charges against Willie Jackson were dropped.