After nearly eight years in prison on a drug charge, Ieliot Jackson finally heard testimony in court Monday from the man who says it was he, not Jackson, who was guilty.
Jackson was arrested and charged in June 2009 with selling heroin to undercover officers. He was convicted and sentenced to 13 years in prison, but procedural errors and claims of ineffective representation led the State to drop the charges in 2018.
Jackson filed to seek a certificate of innocence earlier this year. Monday, he called the first round of witnesses to testify, including Isaac Williams, who said he was the one who sold heroin to an undercover officer. Williams was not called in Jackson’s original trial.
Investigations that expose, influence and inform. Emailed directly to you.
Williams testified that on May 30, 2009, he was out on his BMX bicycle on the 4800 block of West Superior Street.
“It was just me and a couple individuals, but I was the one selling narcotics,” Williams testified. He approached who he now knows as the undercover officer, Clark Eichman, who asked if he had heroin. They exchanged phone numbers.
On June 13, Williams said he sold heroin to Eichman after calling him earlier in the day. He said he sold drugs “by myself.”
“I’ve never seen Mr. Jackson selling drugs,” he testified.
At Jackson’s original trial, Eichman said he received a call from the number he had saved as “BMX” on June 13, and a sale was arranged. After the sale, Eichman drove away, gave his team a description of the seller, and later chose Jackson from a photo array as the man who sold him drugs that day.
Eichman testified that he knew Jackson was the person who sold him drugs on June 13 because of the BMX bike and his distinctive beard. But he admitted he did not have any documentation from the May 30 interaction, even though he had documented other interactions he had during the undercover operation.
Williams noted in his affidavit that he had a beard at the time he sold heroin to the officer. No physical evidence links Jackson to the sale.
“Without the officers’ identification, the State had no evidence with which to convict Mr. Jackson — the State did not present any DNA or fingerprint evidence, any telephone records or voice recognition evidence or any independent evidence that would corroborate the officers’ account of events and connect Mr. Jackson with the sale of heroin on June 13, 2009,” Jackson’s petition for a certificate of innocence states.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office opposes the certificate of innocence. In a court filing, the State explained that they dropped the charges against Jackson not because they believe he was innocent but in the interest of saving judicial resources.
“The word ‘innocence’, as used in the statute and in its common understanding, does not mean that a person escaped re-prosecution after winning a reversal of a conviction,” Assistant State’s Attorney Julie Nikolaevskaya wrote.
Outside the hearing, Williams said he testified because “it’s only right.”
“[Jackson] didn’t have anything to do with it, nothing. Period,” he said. “I felt that it was wrong for him to be convicted for something I did.”
Jackson’s hearing continues Wednesday morning. When it concludes, Judge Leroy K. Martin Jr. will issue a decision on whether or not Jackson should receive a certificate of innocence. If the certificate is granted, Jackson could be eligible for compensation of up to $170,000 for the time he served.
Alecia Richards contributed reporting.