Produced by Jay Young and Field Producer Sara Ely Hulse
[This story previously aired on July 28, 2012. It was updated on Oct. 1, 2016.]
Jennifer Jackson had no shortage of friends and Susan Tobey was one of the closest.
“Jennifer was probably one of the warmest, most engaging, beautiful inside and out people I’ve ever known,” Tobey said. “When you got around Jennifer, you felt their energy. And their energy was positive.”
Jennifer was 39, divorced, and raising her 18-year-old daughter, Noura, in Memphis.
“Noura was the light of her life,” said Tobey.
“When you have a single-parent family, the bond is closer. It’s not just your mom,” Noura Jackson told “48 Hours Mystery” correspondent Richard Schlesinger. “I played basketball for my church and I remember, like you know, ‘Mom, you don’t have to come to the game because, [she’d yell] ‘Woo hoo!’ It was so embarrassing. It was just my mom.”
Like most single mothers, Jennifer was a juggler, managing her jobs as a parent and as a bond trader. She seemed successful at both.
“She was the person who absolutely did it all,” Tobey explained. “She made sure that life was as good as it could be.”
Noura said, “I didn’t have any siblings, which sometimes makes you a little bit more spoiled but...
“Were you a little spoiled?” Schlesinger asked.
“A little bit,” she conceded. “I wouldn’t say [spoiled rotten],” she laughed. “Big birthday parties, you know, themes, mom dressing up...”
“You smile when you talk about her,” Schlesinger observed. “You have good memories?” “Uh huh,” Noura replied.
Noura has a few too many memories after seeing her mother the night she was murdered.
“There was blood everywhere. I guess that’s basically the thing that sticks with me,” she recalled, tears streaming down her face. “I guess the only thing that was on my mind was that I needed help.”
Noura ran to a neighbor for help and then made a frantic call to 911:
911: Fire Department. What’s the problem? Tell me exactly what happened.
Noura Jackson: Someone broke into my house! My mom is bleeding!
911: Did you see what happened?
Noura Jackson: No! No, I just got home.
911: Is she breathing?
Noura Jackson: No! She’ not breathing, she’s not breathing, she’ not breathing... I need an ambulance. I need an ambulance right now!
911: We’re getting an ambulance on the line, don’t hang up.
Police raced to the Jackson home and Sgt. Tim Helldorfer was one of the first to go inside. And that’s where he found Jennifer Jackson - naked, bloody and dead.
“I’ll always remember this case... just because of how savage it was,” he told Schlesinger. “But she was just riddled with wounds.”
Jennifer’s body was lying at the foot of the bed. “This was absolutely, no doubt, a very violent scene. The blood cast off all over the sheets... It was a bloody scene,” Sgt. Helldorfer said
A coroner found no evidence of a sexual attack, but said Jennifer had been stabbed more than 50 times.
“It goes into what we would categorize as rage killing,” Helldorfer explained.
Whoever killed Jennifer Jackson put a wicker basket over her head. It sounds strange, but Helldorfer said he’d seen that kind of thing before. When asked who puts a basket over somebody’s face, Helldorfer replied, “Somebody who doesn’t want to look at the face; somebody who is close to the victim.”
“[A] stranger wouldn’t do that,” he continued.
There was other evidence that the killer knew Jennifer - broken glass from a door between the kitchen and the garage. At first glance, Helldorfer said it could have been the way an intruder broke into the house. “It was a three-panel door with windows going horizontal. And the middle window was broken out,” he explained.
But Helldorfer noticed something about that door didn’t look right.
“If you wanted to break into the kitchen through the door, the obvious point would be right down here where the knob and the lock is,” he said pointing to its location. “Up here makes no sense.”
A second look revealed a second lock much closer to the broken pane. Helldorfer said it was a hidden hinge lock on the door frame that you couldn’t see it from the outside. He said that’s important because “somebody had to know this lock was here.”
What’s more, all the outside doors leading into the garage were locked.
Helldorfer said someone could not have gotten to that door in the kitchen from the outside. “Absolutely not. The doors were locked. The exterior doors were locked. There was just no way in.”
Helldorfer continued, “And it looked to me it was staged. That was the first thing I thought. ‘This looks staged.’”
Police were still in the house when news of Jennifer’s murder spread to family and friends, including Renea McMillan. “I pretty much sat on the floor and cried so hard that I mean, I can barely remember,” she said.
“I fell to my knees. It was horrible,” Tobey added. “Who would want to kill her?”
Ansley Larsson got to know Jennifer when their kids started dating. She thought she had the answer right away.
“The truth is, the first thing I thought of was him,” Larsson said of Mark Irvin, a Methodist minister who Jennifer dated around the time of her murder. “There seems to be a seething, like a real underlying anger with him that he appears to be a very controlling person.”
Memphis detectives Lt. Mark Miller and Sgt. W.D. Merritt found out that Irvin had called Jennifer the night of her murder.
When asked if they liked Irvin as a suspect, Lt. Miller replied, “I think the common thought was, ‘Man, this guy likes to talk a lot.’”
“He just kept coming back. He just kept calling...” Miller told Schlesinger. “You can look at this two ways. Either its honest interest, concern... or he did it and he wants to know what we know.”
Irvin had an alibi of sorts. He told police he was asleep at the time of the murder - at his house in Jackson, Tenn., 90 minutes away from Jennifer’s home.
“If you’re asleep you’re asleep. If you’re at home by yourself, alone, how can that be proven or disproven?” Merritt said.
Police in Jackson interviewed Irvin and found no evidence implicating him in Jennifer’s murder.
“You keep him on the back burner and, and keep going forward with the case,” said Miller.
And by now, police already had another suspect. If they’re right, this crime may be even more unspeakable than it first appeared.
“Everything pointed towards her,” said Merritt.
There was one person whose behavior seemed strange to them right from the start and someone who happened to have a cut on her left hand: Noura Jackson, Jennifer’s 18-year-old daughter.
Hours after the discovery of Jennifer Jackson’s bloody body, police started wondering about her daughter, Noura, and exactly how she injured her left hand.
Sergeant Connie Justice was the first officer to interview Noura. Noura told her she cut her hand at a community festival the night before the murder. The back of her hand was covered with a piece of white medical tape.
When asked if Justice noticed any blood on the bandage, she replied, “It had not bled through, because all I saw was the top of it and no, I did not see any actual blood.”
“There were some broken beer bottles. And I slipped and I fell. We had been drinking that night, slipped and fell and cut it,” Noura explained to Richard Schlesinger.
But to Lt. Mark Miller and Sergeant W.D. Merritt, Noura’s explanation only raised more questions. “How do you fall on a bottle with the back of your hand?” they wondered. They said it didn’t make sense.
But it wasn’t just the cut. Lieutenant Miller also thought something was odd about the way Noura was dressed early that June morning.
“She had on a long sleeved shirt, which seemed kind of strange,” Lt. Miller observed, “because June in Memphis isn’t exactly a cool month.”
Miller wondered if Noura was trying to conceal that cut.
“I was in long sleeves a lot. Even on the beach, sometimes I’d be in long sleeves,” Noura told Schlesinger, speaking quickly. “You might see someone in a bikini or a t-shirt and I might have something that was long sleeve. It’s just the way I dressed.”
Memphis police started asking Noura’s neighbors and friends about her relationship with her mother. And that’s when Sgt. Tim Helldorfer started hearing about the fights.
“Noura and her mother had problems,” Helldorfer explained. “Noura wanted to be an adult, on her own. And Jennifer was trying to straighten her out.”
And just hours before Jennifer was killed, one of Noura’s friends said she heard her say, “My mom’s a bitch and needs to go to hell.”
“I heard a lot of concern from Jennifer about ‘I don’t know what to do,’” said Susan Tobey. She said Jennifer had confided in her, “’She’s not going to school and I don’t know what else to do.’ It was a mother who was absolutely frustrated.”
But Tobey said Jennifer was reluctant to discipline her daughter.
“I think there’s a certain amount of guilt that comes with being a single parent. And it causes you, maybe, to be a little easier on children than you might ordinarily be,” she said.
But in the months leading up to the murder, Tobey said Jennifer had finally decided to crack down on Noura. To detectives, that sounded a lot like a possible motive for a teenager used to having her way.
“She didn’t want to be reined in. She wanted her freedom,” Helldorfer said.
What teenager doesn’t want freedom? And what teenager hasn’t fought with or even cursed a parent? It happens all the time. But police thought this became much more; they thought this was a case of matricide - the murder of a mother by her own child.
Noura’s activities the night of the murder just added to their suspicions. Police believe Jennifer Jackson was killed in her home between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. Noura’s friends said they last saw her at a party around midnight. So where was she later?
“I don’t think to this day we know exactly what she did,” Merritt said.
What little they do know came from Noura’s statement to Sgt. Connie Justice.
“Well, she said she purchased some cigarettes. She said she rode around,” Sgt. Justice said.
But there was one stop Noura failed to mention to police. “She went to a Walgreens and purchased some medical care products,” Justice said.
Police learned about her trip to Walgreens when they found a bag filled with first aid products in Noura’s car. “Bandages, peroxide, things you would use to clean up a cut,” Merritt said.
After the bag was found, Sgt. Merritt took it to a nearby Walgreens to check the sales records.
“I asked the manager if we could review her video surveillance system. Low and behold, here comes Noura walking into Walgreens,” he said.
Noura admitted she bought those things to treat the cut she said she got the night before the murder. But police thought Noura was behaving as though the cut was fresh.
“She asked for a paper towel to dab her bleeding wound,” Justice said. Noura can be seen on the store video taking the paper towel from the clerk.
“Did you think in your mind, ‘Bingo? Gotcha?’” Schlesinger asked Merritt. “I knew it was a very important piece of evidence,” he replied.
Police also examined Noura’s cell phone records and noticed a pattern they thought was suspicious. Noura seemed to live on her phone. But that night, between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m., there was nothing.
“That cell phone was nonstop except for a limited time frame, which we feel was when the murder took place,” said Helldorfer.
When asked what he thought happened, Helldorfer said, “I think they had a confrontation, verbally, earlier, and that was it... She just went crazy. Not losing her mind, but that rage, you know, it just kicked in.”
Detectives believe by now, Noura, having just committed a savage murder, coldly and methodically started cleaning up and concocting her cover up.
“I’m sure there was serious panic,” Helldorfer said. “She’s gotta figure out what to do now.”
By 3 a.m., Noura was on the phone again calling friends. She also drove to a friend’s house. “She had an alibi. She had somebody who’d seen her,” Helldorfer said.
Helldorfer believes Noura then headed back home, ran to her neighbor and called 911.
And in the process, Helldorfer said she may have dropped one more clue. “The 911 call taker asked Noura, ‘Has your mother been shot?’ She says, ‘No.’”
“How’s she gonna know that?” Helldorfer said. “I don’t think the average person, under those bloody conditions, could tell whether or not those were knife wounds or gunshot wounds. She was adamant. It was, ‘No.’”
Detectives now have their theory that Noura is the killer. But there’s one big problem: there was no DNA, blood or fingerprints from Noura at the crime scene.
There was DNA from someone else at the crime scene.
“We know there was some unknown DNA that was on a bed sheet,” Merritt said.
“It could have been skin. It could have been sweat,” added Miller.
The investigators were never able to find out whose DNA it was. The only thing they could say for sure was that it wasn’t Jennifer’s or Noura’s.
“I think we know who did it,” Noura said. “We just have to find them.”
“I’ve never had a case where a daughter killed her mother...18-years-old. You don’t want to think that, but who else is there?” said Sgt. Tim Helldorfer of the Memphis Police Department.
Even though police have almost no scientific evidence against her, tey are convinced Noura hated her mother, snapped that night and killed her in a fit of rage,
“I think the biggest concern everybody had was we don’t have the eyewitness. We don’t have the smoking gun and we didn’t have the DNA,” Sgt. Helldorfer said. “But what we had was a lot better than what we didn’t have.”
Three-and-a-half months after Jennifer Jackson was stabbed to death in her bedroom, police finally arrested her daughter and charged her with first-degree murder.
“My grief was interrupted because you get arrested and you have your back up against the wall and you’re constantly having, y’know, to explain ‘I didn’t do this, I didn’t do this,’” Noura told Richard Schlesinger. “You don’t have time to grieve. You have to defend yourself.”
Noura insisted that police have her relationship with her mother all wrong.
“There was a good rapport there,” she said. “I felt comfortable with allowing my mom to know whatever was going on in my life. We didn’t have any secrets and it was a two-way street.”
Noura’s supporters, mothers who knew Jennifer as well, described her as a devoted, loving daughter.
“There’s no way that Noura Jackson could have done that to anybody. And never to her mother! She loved her mother,” said Ansley Larsson. “...I don’t know a whole lot of 16- year-olds that will cancel their plans to hang out with their mother. ‘Mom needs me.’ Woosh,” Larsson motioned with her hand, “There’d she go.”
Dana Frederick’s daughter was Noura’s best friend. Frederick said Noura practically lived with her.
“Had there been a darker side to Noura, I would have picked up on it,” she explained. “Something would have raised a red flag to me and there were no red flags, ever.”
But Noura doesn’t just need good friends anymore, she needed a good lawyer. Memphis defense attorney Valerie Corder took her case for free.
“Ms. Jackson wasn’t shot. Ms. Jackson was stabbed over 50 times,” Corder explained. “It is very difficult to believe that her teenage daughter could have wanted her dead, much less have committed the crime.”
Corder will argue that the very evidence police said proves Noura is a killer may actually prove she is not - especially a photo of Noura’s cut.
“What was significant in my opinion about that photograph is the pristine nails,” Corder told Schlesinger. “My client’s nails were not bloody. They were not torn. They were not chipped. They looked as if she had been handling paper instead of committing a brutal crime.”
Corder believes other pictures the police took within days of the murder might also prove that Noura is innocent. “She’s photographed from head to toe and there are no injuries. There are no bruises... It doesn’t appear that she was in hand-to-hand combat.”
“If this was such a violent struggle, wouldn’t you have expected Noura to have more wounds on her?” Schlesinger asked Helldorfer.
“No, because Noura had the weapon and she was the offender,” he replied. “Jennifer was totally defensive, trying to block. She wasn’t trying to attack.”
But Corder said that doesn’t explain away the cops’ big problem: why they didn’t find any blood or DNA evidence linking Noura to the crime.
“So rarely is a teenager accused of such a horrific crime with such a paltry amount of evidence,” she noted.
“DNA evidence? I mean, that speaks for itself to me,” Noura told Schlesinger.
“That your DNA wasn’t found there?” he asked.
“Not only was my DNA not found there, but someone else’s was.”
Remember, police confirmed that DNA found on Jennifer’s bed sheets was not Noura’s, but they were never able to identify it.
“That DNA could have been on the sheets for any length of time,” Det. Miller said.
“It’s a nagging question,” Schlesinger said. “Oh, absolutely,” Merritt agreed.
Police never found the murder weapon or the bloody clothes Noura would have been wearing if she did this. But they did find drops of Jennifer’s blood on the front step.
“Obviously, Noura had some type of item or something that was dripping as she was carrying it from the home,” Merritt said.
Police think Noura then dumped the evidence somewhere away from the house.
“Well, if that were true, then one would expect to find some of Noura’s blood or some of Jennifer’s blood in that car also,” Corder said. “There was no blood in the vehicle.”
And there’s more evidence that Corder said raises serious doubt about Noura’s guilt. When Jennifer’s body was found on the floor in her bedroom, she was clutching some strands of hair in her hand. A preliminary examination showed the hair might be Jennifer’s, but did not appear to be Noura’s.
Police were so confident in their case they didn’t do any further tests on the hair, which Corder argued, could very well be the killer’s. “We do not know whose hair it was,” she said.
“Should we have tested the hair? Hindsight being 20/20, yeah we probably could have,” Merritt said.
“But, gee whiz - it was in her hand,” Schlesinger pointed out. “Like he said, hindsight’s 20/20,” Miller replied.
“When the scientific evidence excluded Noura Jackson as the assailant, it was ignored,” Corder said.
Of course, one of the most incriminating bits of evidence police did find was that videotape of Noura’s visit to Walgreens.
“If she had felt guilty about doing it, would she have gone to a Walgreens in her neighborhood? Where she knows they’re videotaping? Corder asked.
And what’s more, police found the Walgreens bag with the first aid products in plain sight in Noura’s car. Corder continued, “Would she have left the bag in her car?”
“Maybe she forgot about it. Maybe she meant to throw it away. Maybe she didn’t think we would find out,” Merritt said.
Noura’s supporters also couldn’t believe police dismissed what could be an obvious answer to the question about who killed Jennifer. Noura’s father had been killed less than a year-and-a-half earlier. What if whoever had murdered him had struck again?
“Nobody was really working on solving what happened to Nazmi,” according to Dana Frederick.
Nazmi Hassanieh and Jennifer had divorced shortly after Noura was born. Police thought he might be involved in prostitution and/or drug trafficking.
“He did some things that if we had known about it, he would have been arrested,” Helldorfer said.
Nazmi was shot dead in the convenience store he owned in a rough part of town. He was shot just out of range of the security camera. Police called it an assassination.
“From watching the videotape of the murder, this was not a robbery. The person that murdered him was looking for something specifically in his office,” Frederick said.
Police never caught the killer. After Nazmi’s murder, Jennifer took control of his estate.
Her friend, Renea McMillan, wondered if Jennifer may have unwittingly become a target of Nazmi’s enemies. “Who’s to say that he didn’t owe somebody money and they felt that Jennifer may have the money that they’re looking for?”
According to Merritt, “We looked over the case and read over the case but could not make any type of connection.”
“I think [the] Memphis Police Department was feeling the heat. I think they wanted a quick fix,” Frederick said. “Noura was a scapegoat. It’s just like a witch hunt. They turned her into a witch.”
Almost four years after her mother, Jennifer, was murdered, Noura Jackson’s trial was finally under way.
“Well, I know I don’t really know what happened. I wasn’t there,” Noura told Richard Schlesinger. She has always denied stabbing her mother to death.
Noura, 21, faced a first-degree murder charge and the possibility of life in a penitentiary.
Prosecutor Amy Weirich had never tried a case of matricide before. “I have been told that it is very rare,” she told Schlesinger. In fact it couldn’t be rarer. Less than 2 percent of all the murders in America are matricides - a child killing their mother - and of those, just a fraction are committed by daughters.
Weirich had to convince jurors that this was one of those all-but-unheard-of cases.
But if the jury’s looking for much forensic evidence against Noura, Weirich was in a lot of trouble. A DNA expert called by the prosecution testified that Noura’s blood and DNA was not found at the crime scene. Defense lawyer, Valerie Corder, questioned her thoroughly.
Valerie Corder: DNA evidence is essential to solving crimes.
DNA Expert Qadiayyah Debman: Yes it is.
Corder: Within all the items that you tested, the pillows...the pillow cases... the sheets...the light switch, on none of those items did you find Noura Jackson’s blood or DNA of any kind.
Debman: No I did not.
“The state’s theory was never, ‘Let’s draw conclusions from the unalterable scientific facts. Let’s construct a case based upon a teenager’s behavior,’” Corder told Schlesinger.
As the state presented its case, Noura sat quietly alone in court. Not one member of her family stood by her side.
In fact, Cindy Eidson, Jennifer Jackson’s sister and one of Noura’s aunts, was a witness for the prosecution.
“I had a lot of conversations with Jennifer and the problems that she was having...” Eidson told the court.
She testified that Jennifer and Noura had a heated argument about Noura’s drug use and party lifestyle just one week before the murder.
“Jennifer said, ‘You can either go to boarding school or move out. I’m sick of it. You’re 18 years old and you’re still in 11th grade, and partying all the time, and you’ve got - and I’ve just had it,’” Eidson said.
Noura’s uncle testified that right before the murder Noura seemed unusually interested in what she might inherit if Jennifer died.
“Jennifer got on the subject about having Noura well taken care of if something happened to her that Noura was on the life insurance policy,” Eric Sherwood told the court. When asked by the prosecution how the conversation came up, Sherwood said, “Noura asked Jennifer how it all worked.”
“How convenient for me to be asking about life insurance a week before my mother’s murder,” Noura told Schlesinger. “I don’t know.”
“Are you calling your uncle a liar?” Schlesinger asked.
“Yes. And that’s hard to do because,” she said with a pause, “Umm, I love him.”
Her friends weren’t doing Noura much good either. Kirby McDonald was the teen who said she overheard Noura curse her mother at a party just hours before the murder.
“Noura said, ‘My Mom’s a bitch and she needs to go to hell,’” McDonald testified.
Noura told police that she drove around after that party and didn’t get home until 5 a.m. But prosecutors said phone records show Noura was in her home around the time of the murder.
Noura’s friend, Clark Schifani, testified that at about 1 a.m., he got a call from the Jackson’s house phone. Seconds later, he got another call - this time from Noura’s cell phone.
“I think she accidentally picked up the house phone and realized ‘Hey, I’m not supposed to be here. Let’s hang this up.’ And then turned right back around and called him from her cell phone,” Sgt. Miller explained.
“That’s odd,” Schlesinger said.
“It’s odd for someone that’s claiming they were never at home,” Merritt asserted.
But most of the prosecution’s case is based on what Noura did after the murder; like that early morning trip to Walgreens.
“Why is she at Walgreen’s buying liquid bandages and hydrogen peroxide at 10 after four in the morning? And why is she not telling anybody about it?” Amy Weirich said.
Joe Cocke lived across the street. He said Noura woke him at 5 a.m. after the murder.
“She said ‘My mom, my mom. Somebody’s breaking into my house!’ I reached up in my closet and grabbed my pistol,” he testified.
Cocke said he ran with Noura back to her house. “And Noura went in front of me... she went in right in front of me and I found that odd because somebody was breaking into this house.”
Sergeant Tim Helldorfer thought that was odd, too. “If someone’s in the house, why would you run back in? Let the man with the gun go in first. She led the way.”
In the early hours of the investigation, Jennifer’s friend, Genevieve Dix, noticed that Noura was acting strangely.
“I wrapped my arms around her and hugged her. And she just stood there,” Dix testified. “She had her sweatshirt pulled down to her knuckles.”
Prosecutors argue that Noura was trying to cover up that cut on her hand.
“And every time anybody’s around her, for the days later, she’s wearing long sleeves and its 600 degrees outside, and she’s hiding it. Why?” Weirich wondered.
Remember, Noura said she got that cut the day before the stabbing, but several of her friends saw her at that party just hours before the murder.
When asked in court if they recalled seeing a cut or bandage on her hands that night, they replied “No.”
Witnesses said as time went on, Noura told several different stories about how she cut her hand.
“She said she cut it on a beer bottle at the Italian Fest,” said Caroline Giovanetti.
“She told me that her cat was stuck in the garage and she cut it trying to get the cat out of the garage,” Regina Hunt said.
“She said, ‘Grace, any doctor would tell you it was a burn. I burned it cooking macaroni and cheese,’” Grace France testified.
“Did you tell other people different stories about how you cut your hand?” Schlesinger asked Noura. “No. What I told the police is what happened,” she said.
“Forensic evidence doesn’t lie. None of Noura’s DNA is at the scene,” Noura’s defense attorney, Valerie Corder told the court. Corder challenged almost every detail of the state’s case, including how investigators handled the hair found in Jennifer’s hands.
Valerie Corder: And did you analyze the loose hair from the right hand?
DNA Expert Qadiayyah Debman: No I did not.
Corder: Did you analyze the hair from the left hand?
Debman: No I did not.
And Corder hammered Crime Scene Investigator David Payment for almost two days, suggesting he overlooked evidence pointing to someone else.
Valerie Corder: What is that in the entry hall? It’s a cat isn’t it?
David Payment: Oh, yes it is.
Corder: So a cat walked around the crime scene while you were in charge of it?
Payment: Ah, yes ma’am...
Corder: So the cat may have left trace evidence?
Payment: The cat may have digested evidence. Corder clearly wanted the jury to conclude that the police bungled the investigation right from the start. And now Valerie Corder was about to question Jennifer’s ex-boyfriend, whose relationship with Jennifer might have been just as volatile as Noura’s.
As Noura Jackson’s murder trial wound down, Jennifer’s on-again off-again boyfriend, Pastor Mark Irvin, took the stand.
“He was the most controlling, manipulative person that I have ever met in my whole entire life. And he scared me,” Noura told Schlesinger.
But in a move that surprised some, it was the prosecutor who called Irvin, hoping to dispel any suspicions about his involvement in Jennifer’s murder.
Amy Weirich: During this point, were you broken up?
Mark Irvin: We were.
Prosecutor: Had it been a violent break up?
Irvin: Not in any way. And that’s the truth.
Irvin admitted that on the night of the murder, he called Jennifer. But he claimed he was at home, 90 minutes away.
“Before I even possibly even heard it ring I just said, ‘It’s too late to call.’” So he said he hung up and went to sleep.
“Mr. Irvin said that he was asleep until 7 a.m. in the morning. There’s no verification of that,” Corder told Richard Schlesinger.
When asked if she thinks he’s a viable suspect, Corder replied, “I think he was an unusual man. Everyone agrees that Jennifer’s relationship with him was quite turbulent.”
On cross examination, Corder tried to make what she could out of the problems with the relationship. But in the end, nothing came out at trial that linked Mark Irvin to Jennifer Jackson’s murder.
“Nobody had any reason to believe that he was responsible for this,” said Weirich.
After nine days, the prosecution rested. Noura never testified and Valerie Corder believed the state’s case was so weak, she decided to rest without calling any witnesses. There was never any testimony about the murder of Noura’s father.
“...If the state hasn’t met their burden of proof of proving this is the crime that was committed and this is the person that committed it, there is no defense to put be on...” Corder explained.
For Noura, everything was now riding on Corder’s closing argument.
“The brutal ugly truth is this was a brutal, ugly crime and a brutal, ugly, incompetent investigation,” Corder told jurors. “Let’s put everything on this side of the courtroom that does not indicate Noura Jackson killed her mother.
“Basket, pillow, comforter: none of Noura Jackson’s blood. Stepstool, bag, another pillow... bottom sheet, hoodie: none of Noura Jackson’s blood,” she continued.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we ask you to return the only verdict the real evidence, the forensic scientific evidence justifies and that’s not guilty of any charge.”
But Amy Weirich had the last word and she reminded the jury of that one burning question from the night of the murder that remains unanswered:
“Just tell us where you were!” Weirich yelled at Noura. “That’s all we’re asking, Noura!”
Weirich tried to convince the jury one last time that, despite the lack of forensic evidence, this was one of the rarest of murders -- that a daughter stabbed her mother to death.
“And there’s one picture that keeps playing over and over and over in your head. You know the picture we’re talking about it,” Weirich told jurors. “It’s the picture of an 18-year-old enraged, out of control Noura Jackson snapping. It is the perfect storm that is brewed. It is the volcano that has erupted. It is the spring that has sprung.”
As the jury filed out, a scared Noura knew what was at stake.
So who is Noura Jackson? Is she an innocent girl or a savage killer capable of stabbing her own mother to death and then lying about it?
It took nine hours for the jury to decide. They found Noura guilty of second-degree murder.
As hard as it has been for them, it was the word Jennifer’s family had waited to hear and the one Noura dreaded.
Memphis police were hoping for first degree. Sergeant Tim Helldorfer voiced his disappointment. “I thought it was a first-degree murder. I think one or two just couldn’t sentence an 18-year-old kid to jail for the rest of her life.”
Noura was sentenced to 20 years and nine months. To this day, she insists she is innocent.
“In the morning when I wake up in a cell. and you have to remind yourself why you’re here...my mother’s dead. You can’t help but relive it every morning when you wake up,” she said.
Of course, almost all murders leave questions in their wake. But this one, a daughter convicted of matricide, has left even more frightening ones.
“I shutter to imagine what that would be like, to know that your attacker might well have been your daughter,” Tobey said. “I cannot imagine what that did to her spirit.”
But for now, there are no answers. There’s only loss.
“We lost our friend. She lost her mother,” Tobey continued. “Everyone lost.”
After Noura Jackson spent almost a decade in prison, the Tennessee Supreme Court granted her a new trial.
“To my knowledge there has never been a case in Tennessee in which a conviction has been reversed because of two episodes of constitutional misconduct,” said Corder.
The court said the prosection had withheld evidence from her defense team and had violated her right to remain silent in their closing arguments.
With a second trial looming, the prosecution shocked everyone by offering Noura an unusual plea deal – to a reduced charge: voluntary manslaughter. She was allowed to use the rare legal procedure called an Alford plea – where a defendant proclaims innocence and yet pleads guilty. Noura accepted the deal.
“It’s been an incredible thing that she’s asked to do today, but it’s Noura’s position not our words that she doesn’t have any more faith in the justice system,” her attorney, Michael Working said.
Noura’s sentence was reduced to 15 years, but with time served and credits for good behavior, she would walk free in just over one year.
“To be offered the opportunity to walk free, when one has lost confidence in the system, was simply an offer that was too good to pass up,” said Corder.
In August 2016, Noura Jackson, who is 29 years old, walked out of prison still proclaiming her innocence.
“The prosecutors in this case deceived the judge, my lawyers, and the jury by hiding very important evidence. It shouldn’t have been allowed,” she said.
Just one month later, discliplinary hearings begin against the two proseuctors in her case.
On her Facebook page, Noura thanks those that stood by her and she vows to pressure the state of Tennessee to find her mother’s real killer.
Noura Jackson is in a legal battle with some of her family over her mother’s $1.5 million estate.