Jury recommends life without parole for man charged with Leslie County murders

no physical evidence linked clayton jackson to crimes

dhjalmarson@herald-leader.comApril 9, 2011 

Clayton Jackson, 31, entered the courtroom during his trial Tuesday, April 5, 2011, in Manchester, Ky. Jackson is charged with killing Chris and Amanda Sturgill and their three children and burning their home the morning of Feb. 6, 2004. Photo by Dori Hjalmarson

DORI HJALMARSON | STAFF

A Clay Circuit Court jury recommended Friday that Clayton Jackson serve a sentence of life without parole for each of three 2004 Leslie County murders. The jury recommended a maximum 50-year sentence for an arson charge.

Jackson, 31, was convicted Wednesday of killing Michael Sturgill, 4, Robert Sturgill, 3, and Jordan Sturgill, 18 months, and arson for setting fire to their house. The jury was split on whether Jackson killed the boys' parents, Chris and Amanda Sturgill, who were shot with a bow and arrows.

"I do feel like justice has been served with regard to the children," Commonwealth's Attorney Gary Gregory said. "It was the strongest sentence possible, short of death."

He said the jury seemed to have been conscientious.

"We appreciate the fact that the jury did not give Clayton Jackson a death sentence, but I still believe he is innocent," public defender Barbara Carnes said. "It bothers me that the investigation (by Kentucky State Police) was one of the worst I've ever seen."

No physical evidence was presented linking Jackson to the murders. Prosecutors' main witnesses were jailhouse snitches who testified about contradictory statements Jackson had made about the fire or the scene.

"The reality is the detectives worked hard, brought forth all the evidence that was available to them," Gregory said.

Other suspects were investigated and eliminated "by every forensic means available to us," he said.

If more evidence is discovered, Jackson or another conspirator could be prosecuted in the deaths of Chris and Amanda Sturgill.

Chris Sturgill's mother, Linda Roark, and Detective Dean Craft testified for the prosecution during the penalty phase of the trial. Jackson's mother and grandmother as well as a court-appointed advocate testified in the sentencing phase, Carnes said.

After he was released from federal prison on a gun charge in 2007, and before he was arrested on the murders later that year, he had good reports from work supervisors, earned his GED and passed all drug tests, Carnes said.

He was married for a while and had a baby. His ex-wife and daughter were at the courthouse many days of the trial. Jackson's request on his birthday, which was March 29, was to see his daughter, which he was allowed to do, Carnes said.

"He broke down and started crying," when he saw his daughter after he was convicted, she said.

Carnes said she plans to appeal the case to the Kentucky Supreme Court.

Sentencing was set for June.

Dori Hjalmarson covers Eastern Kentucky. Reach her at (606) 653-2111.

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