Fly-on-the-wall television show uncovers `wrongful conviction'

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The Independent Online
LESLIE JACKSON is serving a seven-year prison sentence for a killing he did not commit, according to claims featured in BBC2's controversial documentary series Mersey Blues next week.

Jackson was originally charged with the murder of Robert Casey on 5 November 1996. At his trial last March he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter. He did so to protect members of his family from prosecution for corroborating a false alibi for the night of the killing.

Nearly a year after his conviction, Jackson and his wife, Linda, have now sworn affidavits in which they claim he was not even guilty of manslaughter.

Jackson says that although he was with Casey in Brae Street, Liverpool, at the wheel of the maroon Toyota in which the young man was shot, he did not pull the trigger. The shots were fired when Casey struggled not with Jackson, but with the occupant of the front passenger seat - Joey Cullen, Jackson's brother-in-law.

On the first morning of a trial expected to last four weeks, the defence and prosecution teams brokered a deal. If Jackson pleaded guilty to manslaughter, the charges of conspiring to pervert the course of justice against his family would be put on file (dropped effectively) and the threat of prison lifted.

"I found myself presented with the most difficult decision of my life," Jackson says in his affidavit.

"I was not responsible for the death of Robert Casey ... and under normal circumstances I would never have pleaded guilty to a crime that I did not commit. But I was told that I faced the possibility of my wife, her brother and my daughter going to prison if I was found guilty of murder. I decided it was a risk I could not take."

There was evidence to place Jackson in Brae Street, and that Casey had shed blood in his car. But there was nothing to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Jackson pulled the trigger. However, shortly before the trial, police discovered that Jackson had lied about where he and his wife stayed on the night of the shooting. If the prosecution could unmask him as a liar on the stand, then there was a greater risk the murder charge would stick and his family would join him in prison. Jackson accepted the deal.

The decision by Jackson's wife to come forward now with what she insists is the truth could reactivate the original charges against her and the threat of prison.

Casey, a runner for a gang involved in drugs and firearms, was a diagnosed schizophrenic on medication to control violent mood swings. He met the Jacksons' 20-year-old daughter, Lynette, in the spring of 1996, but their brief relationship ended in May when he threatened her with a gun.

A distraught Casey would telephone Ms Jackson at her parents' home, threatening to harm her and her family. When Casey asked to meet Jackson on 5 November, he drove around with his brother-in-law, Mr Cullen, to Casey's flat. The police do not dispute that Casey prepared for the meeting by putting on a flak jacket and taking a loaded pistol.

Jackson says that Casey ordered him to drive around in the Toyota while they talked. Casey, apparently upset and agitated, told Jackson to stop in Brae Street. As he pulled over, Jackson felt the gun against the back of his head. He says he panicked, knocked the gun out of Casey's hand and into Mr Cullen's lap in the front passenger seat. Casey reached for it from the back and, while Jackson tried to open the driver's door, Casey scuffled with Mr Cullen. As they wrestled, Jackson says he heard the gun go off. "I don't know who had their finger on the trigger when the shots were fired," he maintains.

Mrs Jackson says her husband wanted to go the police to say that Casey was the aggressor and that Jackson and Mr Cullen were acting in self-defence. She pleaded with her husband not to. Mr Cullen was on bail for attempted murder at the time, charges of which he was later cleared. But Mrs Jackson feared police would not believe them. "I kept looking and thinking, `That's my brother'," she says. "It was so hard. Les wanted to go to the police, but I kept saying `no' because of my brother. Joey had done me a favour by saving Les's life."

So instead they lied and the family concocted an alibi which said that they were with each other when Casey died.

Jackson and his wife resolved to tell the truth at the trial, but the plea bargain meant that nobody took the stand. Jackson was sentenced to 10 years, reduced to seven on appeal. "I know from day one we've lied and lied to cover what went on, but I think it's important to tell the truth," Mrs Jackson says. "Because Les pleaded guilty the police think they've got it right, but they haven't."

A spokesman for Merseyside Police said yesterday that, pending examination of the new affidavits, they were satisfied with outcome of the case.