Monday, Aug. 6, 2012 | 7 p.m.
A federal appeals court has overturned the sexual assault conviction of a Las Vegas man who has spent more than 10 years in prison.
The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Calvin O. Jackson, serving three life terms plus other sentences, was prevented from presenting evidence at his trial that the woman had made other false claims of prior sexual assault against him.
The court, in a 2-1 decision, ordered the Clark County District Court to issue a writ freeing Jackson unless the state decides to try him again.
Jackson was convicted of six counts in 1999 in the alleged assault of Annette Heathmon, and he has 45 more years before he would be eligible for parole.
Jackson claimed it was consensual sex.
At trial, Jackson was prevented from introducing police witnesses that Heathmon had made prior accusations on two occasions that Jackson had assaulted her. The police investigation in these cases found the attacks never occurred.
Heathmon alleged Jackson forced his way into her apartment in October 1998, threatened to stab her with a screwdriver if she did not have sex, raped and beat her. She said he cut up some of her clothes, ripped the phone from the wall and stole a ring.
The court, in the majority decision written by Judge Stephen Reinhardt, said there was no evidence of a screwdriver or that any clothes had been cut up. "The nurse who examined Heathmon after the assault found no signs of bruising and no signs of sexual assault, and the responding officer did not observe any readily visible marks or bruises," said the court.
Prior to the Jackson trial, Heathmon recanted her accusation of assault in a notarized letter. But when threatened with a perjury charge, she agreed to testify.
The appeals court said the exclusion of the critical evidence of the prior false accusations of assault by Heathmon would have undermined her credibility and was "a clear violation of Jackson's right to present an adequate defense."
Judge Alfred Goodwin dissented, saying rejection of the proffered evidence "was not a constitutional error" by the state trial court or the federal district court. He said these courts followed a federal law involving claims made in state courts.