MT. VERNON — A Mt. Vernon woman was released from prison by Gov. Pat Quinn on Friday after serving just 27 years of her life sentence for her role in her husband’s murder in Jefferson County over 25 years ago.
Peggy Jo Jackson’s clemency was one of 87 the governor granted; another 135 were denied.
The 57-year-old Jackson reportedly was released from the Logan Correctional Center and headed to South Carolina, where she’ll live with family members and complete her parole.
Jackson, along with co-defendant and brother Richard Harshbarger, were convicted in 1987 by a Washington County jury and heard by Judge Lehman Krause after the trial was moved from Jefferson County, according to local officials. Harshbarger, who died several years ago in prison, was convicted of committing the murder when confronting Jackson’s husband, William, who reportedly abused Ms. Jackson. Peggy Jo, who was not present at the time, was convicted for not trying to prevent her brother from murdering her husband. Former State’s Attorney Kathleen Alling was the prosecutor in the case.
“I am highly disappointed in Gov. Quinn’s decision to grant this petition,” said Jefferson County State’s Attorney Doug Hoffman. “Last fall when the petition was before the Prisoner Review Board, I personally reviewed case files from 1986 when this happened and I prepared a written objection to the petition. I also provided the Board with a record of the trial record so they could understand the brutal and horrendous circumstances of this case and why my office felt the petition should be denied.”
According to information, William Jackson had been shot at the couple’s farmhouse in a rural area near Mt. Vernon. His body was placed in a car, which was set on fire and dumped in a creek off Illinois 15 near the Mt. Vernon Airport.
The Illinois Innocence Project, based at the University of Illinois-Springfield, has worked on the case for the past four years with the support of the Illinois Clemency Project for Battered Women.
Attorney Erica Nichols-Cook, who represents the organization, told reporters following the governor’s action the order is “a victory for all innocent women that have suffered from serious domestic abuse.” She added the case shows how far society has come in its understanding of domestic violence and the treatment of its victims. “If this case was tried today, she would have never been convicted,” she said.
Among those submitting an affidavit on Jackson’s behalf was her trial attorney Michael McHaney, now a judge.
Quinn commuted Jackson’s sentence to time served. She also was granted permission to serve her parole out of state. Hoffman’s understanding is Jackson has to serve three years on parole.
According to the governor’s office, Quinn has acted on 2,459 clemency petitions since he took office, granting 929 and denying 1,530.
Hoffman concluded, “Unfortunately, the decision in the end lies with our governor, and I believe he has made a mistake.”
Quinn said the actions taken Friday marks another step in a series of clemency decisions aimed at eliminating a backlog of more than 2,500 cases that built up during the previous administration.
Associated Press contributed to this report.