Execution May Go Forward Despite Childhood Abuse Described as 'Sadistic Terror'

On August 12, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell said he would not commute the death sentence of Jerry Terrell Jackson, despite the emergence of evidence that Jackson was subjected to extreme physical and psychological abuse, evidence not heard by his trial jury. Jackson is scheduled to be executed on August 18 for the murder of 88-year-old Ruth Phillips. Federal District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema held a two-day hearing in 2008 where Jackson's siblings first testified about the level of childhood abuse inflicted on Jackson and other family members.  She concluded that his sentencing hearing was a travesty of justice: "The picture painted of Jackson by his own counsel all but invited a death verdict," and that his trial counsel was "constitutionally ineffective." She described the abuse as a "continuous, sadistic course of conduct that terrorized and dehumanized Jackson throughout his childhood."  However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the decision last April, deferring to the Virginia Supreme Court, which upheld Jackson's sentence.  A petition asserting ineffectiveness of counsel is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.  If the petition is denied, Jackson will be the first person executed in Virginia since Teresa Lewis in September 2010.

(T. Dietrich and P. Dujardin, "Virginia execution: Should severe childhood abuse spare a murderer the death penalty?," Daily Press, August 14, 2011).  See Arbitrariness and Representation.  Teresa Lewis was also denied clemency by Gov. McDonnell, despite having an IQ of 72 and the fact that her two co-defendants, who actually carried out the murders that led to Lewis's death sentence, were sentenced to life.