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Martina Jackson

Other Connecticut Exonerations
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/oxford%20seal.png
At 1:47 a.m. on July 29, 2016, firefighters were dispatched to a house fire in Oxford, a small town in south-central Connecticut. The interior was ablaze and heavily burned. No one was home.

The investigation started almost immediately. Firefighters noticed that the fire had burned strongest in the northwest corner of the house, and they found what appeared to be pooled liquid under a sofa. They also saw what they considered to be an unusual burn pattern near the curtains, and found a red gas can under the sink. Material, including flooring, screening and the can, was taken to the Connecticut State Police for testing.

Later that day, the state police spoke with Delores Lee, who owned the house. She said she had owned it since 2005 and was in the process of evicting the tenants, a mother and five children, for not paying rent. She said that she had hired a marshal to serve the eviction notice, and that he told Lee the day before the fire that the tenant said she wasn’t going to leave. Lee’s response, according to the marshal: “No one ever pays me. Maybe, I’ll burn it down.” In fact, she told him, there had been a fire at the house in 2005, when the house was insured for only $50,000. Now, it was insured for $300,000.

The police seized the clothing and cellphones of Lee and her son. From those cellphone records, they found a call placed to Lee at 1:32 a.m. on July 29 from a cellphone belonging to 24-year-old Speciale Morris of Yonkers, New York. Morris was brought in for questioning. She told police that she had been hanging out in front of her apartment on July 28, 2016, when she saw Lee and a neighbor named Martina Jackson sitting in Lee’s Lexus. Jackson, who was 44, got out and asked Morris if she would be willing to drive her to Connecticut later that evening. Morris agreed, and Jackson called her just before 11 p.m. and told her she was ready to go. Morris said Jackson gave her the address for the house in Oxford, which Morris entered into the Google Maps app on her phone. She said Jackson got out at the house, went inside, then quickly returned and told Morris to drive away. Jackson used Morris’s phone to call Lee, telling her that she was “finished with work.”

Investigators with the state police then interviewed Jackson. She said that Lee had offered to pay $800 to anyone who would burn the house down. Jackson said she rode with Morris and a man named Leon Carson from Yonkers to Oxford, but it was Carson who went inside and set fire to the house.

On November 30, 2016, the state police issued their findings on the material taken from the house, stating its analysis had found the presence of petroleum distillates on the flooring and screening material and the likely presence of gasoline in the red can found under the sink.

In October 2017, Lee was charged with arson, insurance fraud, and giving a false statement. Jackson was charged with arson, burglary, criminal mischief, tampering with evidence, and reckless endangerment. Morris was charged with fraud and conspiracy to commit arson.

Carson was arrested in July 2018 and charged with burglary, arson, criminal mischief, tampering with physical evidence, interfering with an officer, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, and reckless endangerment.

Jackson and Morris both pled guilty in 2018 to conspiracy to commit second-degree arson. Their sentencing was delayed, while Lee and Carson awaited trial. Prior to those trials starting, the forensic scientist who had tested the materials retired. His replacement said he didn’t want to testify about another chemist’s lab work, so the material was retested. This time, no accelerants were found. There was no official explanation of the discrepancy, but a spokesman for the state police told a reporter for WTNH-TV that the new results might have been due to the small size of the sample and the accelerants evaporating.

Without those results, the state fire marshal was unable to render a ruling that the fire was caused by arson. In 2019, the charges against Lee and Carson were dismissed, and the convictions of Morris and Jackson were dismissed by the state’s attorney’s office. The precise date their convictions were vacated is not public; their records have been expunged.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 11/21/2019
State:Connecticut
County:New Haven
Most Serious Crime:Conspiracy
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2016
Convicted:2018
Exonerated:2019
Sentence:Not sentenced
Race:Don't Know
Sex:Female
Age at the date of reported crime:44
Contributing Factors:False Confession, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No