Reasonable Doubt

Two jurors voted not to convict him. He’s still in prison 24 years later.

On a summer night in 1996, two people robbed an Applebee’s restaurant in northwestern Louisiana in the United States. The masked robbers held a manager and two workers at gunpoint and stole about $6,500 in cash and some gift certificates.

Bossier City Police images, 1996

Police accused Brandon Jackson - 24 years old at the time - of armed robbery. His trial was the following year. Brandon has always maintained his innocence.

Brandon Jackson, 1996

When a jury of 12 delivered its verdict in 1997, two jurors said Brandon was not guilty - but he was convicted. At the time, jury decisions in Louisiana did not have to be unanimous for felony convictions. Only 10 out of 12 had to agree.

Twenty-four years later, Brandon is still in prison.

Non-unanimous juries are no longer allowed anywhere in the US. In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled they were unconstitutional - rooted in the racist practice of silencing the voices of Black jurors. But the court later said states did not have to give people with final convictions new trials. Brandon, whose conviction is final, is fighting for his case to be heard again..

“It’s important to have a unanimous jury verdict because it is important to make sure that there are not reasonable doubts as to someone's guilt,” Jamila Johnson, managing attorney at The Promise of Justice Initiative, told Fault Lines.

“What sticks out with Brandon's case is ... that there are serious doubts as to guilt,” Johnson said.

There was no physical evidence linking Brandon to the robbery. A police investigator did not try to get fingerprints off the stolen money or the guns that were allegedly used, later saying at the trial that it had been a mistake.

Bossier City Police images, 1996

The state’s case rested largely on the testimony of Joseph Young - an Applebee’s employee who later admitted to conspiring in the robbery. He was hoping to get a lighter sentence in exchange for testifying against Brandon.

Trial transcript between the prosecutor and Joseph Young

At first, Young said he was not involved in the robbery but later recanted. It wasn’t the last time he changed his story. Fault Lines and The Lens obtained a recording of Young before the trial but after he had implicated Brandon. In it, Young tells Brandon’s lawyer he hadn’t recognised either robber. At trial, the tape was withheld from the jury, the judge ruling it would violate attorney-client privilege - even though Brandon’s lawyer never represented Young in the case.

Joseph Young claiming that none of the robbers looked like Brandon Jackson

Young even admitted to lying on the stand when Brandon’s lawyer questioned him at trial.

Trial transcript between Jackson's lawyer and Joseph Young

Young had testified that, despite one of the robber’s faces being covered by a ski mask, he was able to identify him as Brandon by his voice, eyes, and nose. No other witnesses identified Brandon.

The state had a few other witnesses to call to support its accusation.

A state witness named Ken Fuller - a friend of Brandon’s brother - testified that Brandon had been part of a discussion to plan the robbery at a friend’s house weeks before it happened. When cross-examined, Fuller admitted he was confused about Brandon’s exact role in the conversation and that he’d been smoking cannabis that day.

Illustration by Holli Glasson / Al Jazeera

Early in the morning after the robbery, a police officer said he saw Brandon arriving at the Applebee’s with his girlfriend. In his closing arguments, the prosecutor told the jury: “You’ve heard it a thousand times. The criminal always returns to the scene of the crime.”

Stacey Marks, a juror who voted to convict Brandon, told Fault Lines that this was a “telling fact” and that it was one of the main reasons she was convinced of his guilt.

A juror shares one reason she voted to convict Brandon Jackson

Another reason she voted to convict Brandon: his demeanour in court. “I remember Brandon made a lot of eye contact with the jurors and he seemed to be pretty sure of himself,” she said.

Illustration by Holli Glasson / Al Jazeera

Fault Lines and The Lens were able to confirm that both jurors who voted not to convict Brandon were Black.

Fault Lines and The Lens spoke to one of the two jurors - both Black - who voted not to convict Brandon. She could only speak on condition of anonymity because it could have a “negative effect” on her employment.

“No one was able to say that they knew it was Brandon … no one was able to say enough to convince me that they were sure that it was him,” she said.

When she made her doubt about Brandon’s guilt known to the other jurors, she said it was “blown down”.

State of Louisiana v Brandon Jackson jury votes

After the Civil War, white politicians in the US passed laws to restrict Black Americans’ newfound civil rights, including serving on juries. In 1898, Louisiana enacted non-unanimous juries with the explicit aim of “enshrining the supremacy of the white race”.

An excerpt from the proceedings of the Louisiana constitutional convention of 1898

At least 1,500 people who were convicted by non-unanimous juries remain imprisoned in Louisiana. The decision whether to revisit their cases or not rests with local prosecutors’ offices and judges.

The local district attorney where Brandon was tried initially told Fault Lines he would be open to looking into the case again, but later said his office stood by its motion to dismiss Brandon’s application in which he argues why he deserves a new trial.

Brandon is waiting for the judge’s decision.

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