Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Article on Exonerated but Still Confined: Slayer Rules Present Extra Obstacles to Criminally Exonerated Individuals

SlayerPaige Foster recently published a Comment entitled, Exonerated but Still Confined: Slayer Rules Present Extra Obstacles to Criminally Exonerated Individuals, 10 Tex. Tech Est. Plan. & Cmty. Prop. L. J. 351-374 (Summer 2018). Provided below is an abstract of the Comment:

    In the early morning of June 5, 2005, Noura Jackson frantically called 911 to report that her mother, Jennifer, had been brutally murdered in her Memphis home. Four years later, a court convicted Noura of second-degree murder in connection with her mother's murder. In the interim of her mother's murder and her conviction, Noura's aunts and uncles sued her under Tennessee's "slayer statute" to prevent Noura from receiving her mother's $1.5 million estate. Noura was Jennifer's only child, and Noura's father had died years earlier, so Noura was entitled to the estate. Under Tennessee law, an interested party must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the "individual...feloniously and intentionally kill[ed] the decedent." A preponderance of the evidence standard requires the finder of fact to determine it is more likely than not that a fact is true.

    Tennessee law does not require a conviction to invoke the state's slayer statute, but Noura's second-degree murder conviction helped the relatives' case because it conclusively determined that she, in fact, killed her mother.

    In August of 2014, after spending nine years in prison, the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed Noura's conviction. Evidence of prosecutorial misconduct prompted a re-examination of her case, and Noura was exonerated of her mother's murder. After release from prison, Noura sued her family to recover some of the estate she lost during her murder trial. The parties settled in August 2017 for an undisclosed amount.

    This comment will address the hypothetical legal consequences exonerees face after release from prison but having lost their inheritances through civil suits. Often, the exonerees must sue the same families they want to re-connect with after prison. Many state compensation statutes for exonerees contain gaps and shortcomings and vary vastly from state to state. The first section of this comment with address the goals of the Innocence Project and the relief it provides for the wrongfully convicted. This section with specifically address exonerations for murder and what generally happens to property after incarceration. Next, an analysis of slayer statutes and requisite case law will demonstrate how each state addresses people who murder for inheritance. The wording of the statutes reflect a particular policy standpoint either in favor or against forfeiture of property. Each state approaches the treatment of slayers differently, including outright forfeiture, staying the proceeding, or prohibition of forfeiture altogether.  Some states provide for a constructive trust remedy rather than a slayer statute. Next, this comment will address the overlap of criminal exonerations and slayer statutes and the inevitable gaps that form when someone falls into both categories. Finally, five solutions provide alternative options for exoneree-beneficiaries.


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