The Supreme Court agreed yesterday to decide whether a Virginian who says he was dead drunk when he shot a woman friend to death could be convicted of premeditated murder.
The court will review a ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a case involving James A. Jackson, who is serving a 30-year sentence in the state penitentiary for the first-degree murder of Mary Cole.
Chesterfield County Circuit Judge Ernest P. Gates, who tried Jackson without a jury, convicted him in 1975. The evidence showed that Jackson had drunk at least as much whiskey and beer as the victim, whose blood alcohol level was 0.17 percent -- far above the intoxication level of 0.10 percent.
Jackson's lawyers argue that he was so drunk he was "incapable" of the premeditation necessary for a first-degree murder conviction.
Gates rejected the argument and was upheld by the Virginia Supreme Court. Jackson then sought relief from U.S. District Judge D. Dortch Warriner in Richmond, who found the record "totally devoid of any evidence of premeditation," only to be reversed by the 4th Circuit.
That court emphasized that Jackson had killed Cole with two shots fired from a.38-caliber pistol. "That a single shot might have been fired accidentally may be believable, but that a second shot was fired accidentally after Mrs. Cole had already been struck once is incredible," the court said.
But in a successful petition for review, Carolyn J. Colville, Jackson's lawyer, disputed the court, partly on the ground that the weapon was an automatic requiring only a second pull of the trigger.
Reportedly, the murder occurred after Jackson refused to have sex with Cole and she tried to stab him with a butcher knife. She had been a cook in the county jail when he was an inmate.