Intellectually Disabled Former Alabama Death Row Prisoner Sentenced to Life

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Esaw Jackson in 2007. Photo by Jerry Ayres/The Birmingham News

A Jefferson County, Alabama, trial court sentenced Esaw Jackson to life imprisonment without parole on December 31, 2012, after finding that he is mentally retarded (now known as intellectually disabled).

EJI won a new trial for Esaw Jackson in 2010, when the Alabama Supreme Court reversed his capital murder conviction and death sentence because highly emotional and prejudicial testimony from a victim's mother regarding her opinion of Mr. Jackson's guilt was illegally admitted at trial.

Mr. Jackson was convicted following a new trial and the jury returned a verdict recommending a death sentence.

Prior to sentencing, the court heard evidence from expert and lay witnesses about Mr. Jackson's intellectual disability, including that he has an IQ of 56, has substantially below-average adaptive functioning, and he was in special education classes, repeated two grades, suffered from serious speech impediments, and now reads at a second or third grade level.

The court found that the evidence established all of the factors necessary to show mental retardation under the United States Supreme Court's decision in Atkins v. Virginia, which prohibits executing people with mental retardation, and showed by a preponderance of the evidence that Mr. Jackson is mentally retarded or otherwise intellectually disabled. "U.S. Supreme Court precedent mandates that he cannot be executed," the court wrote.

In sentencing Mr. Jackson to life imprisonment without parole, the court noted that the jury's contrary sentencing recommendation was made without hearing any evidence about Mr. Jackson's mental state.