An obnoxious plea bargain

What you need to know:

  • Jennifer, a 39-year old investment banker, died when she was attacked and stabbed 50 times in her bedroom in the morning hours of Sunday, June 5, 2005.

In 2008 Noura Jackson was found guilty and convicted by a court in Memphis, Tennessee in the US for the murder of her mother, Jennifer Jackson.

Jennifer, a 39-year old investment banker, died when she was attacked and stabbed 50 times in her bedroom in the morning hours of Sunday, June 5, 2005.


Jennifer lived alone with her only child, Noura, who was 18 years old at the time she died. She had divorced with Noura’s father when Noura was a baby. Noura told the police that she found her mother’s body when she came home after being out all night where she had gone to a couple of parties with friends.

Not so, argued the prosecution; to the prosecution Noura killed her mother for money that she could use to keep partying with her friends and also for her estate and life insurance valued at $1.5m.


The prosecution called witness after witness to portray Noura as a rebellious, unruly and angry child. The prosecution told court that Noura had sustained a cut on her hand when fighting with her mother and that she had called a friend to cover for her that morning.

Prosecution dramatically presented her failure to testify as an admission of guilt. The jury pronounced her guilty and she was sentenced to a prison term of 20 years and 9 months.

Conviction overturned

The Tennessee Supreme Court, however, unanimously overturned Noura’s conviction and one of the grounds for overturning the conviction was that the prosecution failed to disclose vital evidence to Noura’s lawyer.

Another ground was that the prosecution breeched the Constitution’s protection of the right of an accused person to remain silent and this means that a defendant’s decision not to testify should be respected. Indeed no physical evidence ever linked Noura to the killing of her mother and when DNA results taken from blood spattered around Jennifer’s bedroom came back, the results suggested that two or three people, whose identities were unknown to the police, had been in Jennifer’s bedroom.

Noura’s DNA was excluded as a match for any of the three DNA profiles. The Supreme Court, in its judgment, observed that no DNA evidence linked Noura to the crime scene and that the blood of unknown individuals was present in the victim’s bed. The murder weapon was never recovered. 

New trial 

Soon after the Supreme Court ruling, the prosecution announced that it would retry the case. Even after her conviction was overturned, Noura was still charged with murder. She was moved from the prison she had been living in for nearly a decade to a jail close to the courthouse. Although she had a right to a bail hearing that would have enabled her to be released until the new trial, court refused to hold the bail hearing.

There was pressure from Noura’s lawyers for the prosecutor who handled the case the first time to withdraw from the case and give it to another prosecutor. In January 2015, after a five-month delay, the prosecutor agreed to hand Noura’s case to a neighbouring district attorney’s office.

The deal

That May, the new prosecutor offered her a deal; a reduced sentence if she pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Her lawyers checked with the Tennessee Department of Corrections, which they say told them that she had enough credits for good behavior and for working in prison to be released the same day if she pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Noura knew that her friends in prison would feel as though a guilty plea was an act of betrayal and she felt that way herself. She was also deeply torn; her friends outside the prison urged her to seize the chance to get out.

Noura had lost her father and mother, and more than anything, she wanted to start her own family. She knew that if she went to trial for a second time and lost, her years of fertility would tick away in prison.

Plea bargain

On May 20, 2015, Noura was taken to a courtroom where she signed a plea bargain that her lawyers had negotiated.

The plea bargain allowed a defendant to acknowledge that the state had enough evidence to convict her while maintaining her innocence. Noura remembers feeling detached from herself as she performed the ritual of signing the plea bargain.

A few days after signing the plea bargain, Noura learned that, in fact, she did not have enough credits for immediate release; she had more than a year left to serve. Her regret was scorching and unrelenting.

Back to prison

She had to go back to prison, to face friends she knew she had disappointed. She had traded vindication for freedom, and now she had neither. Even though she maintained her innocence, on paper she was a killer and she allowed somebody to get away with the killing of her mother.  

Although Noura did not want to shame her mother, she wondered whether her mother’s volatile relationships with men were not connected to her killing. Jennifer married for a second time when Noura was in elementary school but that relationship turned abusive and violent by the time it ended in 2001.  In the months before her death, Jennifer was going out to bars and picking up strangers. Noura kept wondering whether any of these encounters did go wrong.

In 2004 Noura’s father was killed in his convenience store and the murder remained unsolved. When he was killed, surveillance cameras showed the assailant ransacking the store, as if he was looking for something. 

Jennifer had collected Noura’s father’s belongings from the store. And according to the police, Jennifer’s home was ransacked the night she was killed. Noura wondered if the two killings were actually not related.