August 18, 2015 (washington post)
A now-retired Texas prosecutor struck secret deals to secure key testimony in more than one death penalty case, according to a new report.
After uncovering evidence last summer that Navarro County prosecutor John Jackson arranged such a deal in one death penalty case, The Marshall Project, a news nonprofit focused on criminal justice issues, reported Tuesday that Jackson did the same in another, earlier case. In both instances, the report says, defense attorneys were not told about the deals and those testifying reported feeling pressured into doing so and guided in what to share.
The new story alleges that Jackson bolstered a 1986 case against Ernest Baldree—who was charged with murdering a husband and wife during a robbery—with testimony from Kyle Barnett, who was an inmate with Baldree.
But Barnett says he never wanted to testify against Baldree: “The prosecutors there had me in a position where it would be real hard on me if I refused,” he said, according to the report. Barnett said Baldree admitted to the murders, but was also remorseful, saying he was high on speed and didn’t know what he was doing—a fact, he says, prosecutors were uninterested in hearing.
“The scenario that Barnett described strongly echoes allegations later made in the far more famous case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 for the arson murder of his three young daughters,” Maurice Possley and Maurice Chammah write.
Jackson had, for more than 20 years, denied making a deal in that case, too, but a story by Possley republished by The Washington Post last summer cast doubt on his denial.
The former inmate who provided testimony against Willingham in that case, Johnny E. Webb, told Possley that he had been coerced and his testimony that Willingham confessed was a lie. Jackson at the time called the allegation a “complete fabrication.”
Jackson has also alleged that he and Barnett have never had contact. But Barnett says Jackson and his prosecution team told him that they needed his testimony.
“They told me that, if I would testify, they would allow me to the Cenikor Drug Rehabilitation program in Fort Worth for violating my probation,” Barnett explained in an affidavit, according to the new report. “They said if I didn’t testify, I’d be going back to the prison for a long time.”