Peggy Jo Jackson and Richard Harshbarger were both convicted of first degree murder and concealing a homicide, for which they each received a life sentence. While Harshbarger died in 2006, Peggy Jo Jackson remains in prison in Lincoln. But the investigators at the Illinois Innocence Project, based at the University of Illinois-Springfield, believe Peggy Jo is innocent, and they’re trying to free her.
“The state’s whole case rests on the testimony of Debra Gatons, Jackson’s sister in law, who is an unreliable, contradictory witness and had concealed the murder weapon in Pana,” says Erica Nichols Cook, a staff attorney for the Illinois Innocence Project. “I believe she’s innocent of the murder of Will Jackson because our review and investigation contradicts the state’s evidence at trial, especially in light of what we now know about victims of domestic violence.”
Peggy Jo, now 57, has served 25 years of her sentence so far. With help from the Illinois Innocence Project, Peggy Jo is trying to gain her freedom through a clemency petition submitted to Gov. Pat Quinn. Her petition and numerous accompanying letters of support from her family, her therapist, prison workers and others offer explanations for the circumstantial evidence presented against her at trial, and they detail the horrid abuse Peggy Jo endured for years.
The Jackson case was featured by the Illinois Times on January 24, 2013.
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