Murder victim’s family devastated by overturned conviction

Kendall Whitaker at arraignment in 2002. (WPRI-TV)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A Rhode Island Superior Court judge has overturned a man’s conviction in a 2002 murder and robbery, finding that instructions to the jury were confusing. The family of the murder and robbery victim says they’re distressed by the decision.

Kendall Whitaker was convicted in 2005 of robbing and killing Joel Jackson, 19, who investigators said was found shot to death inside his Cheshire Street home three months after his younger brother was killed. The jury had found Whitaker guilty on seven different criminal charges, including first-degree murder, first-degree robbery, and discharging a firearm while committing a crime of violence, death resulting.

But last month, Judge Patricia Hurst, who subsequently retired from the bench, ordered Whitaker’s conviction vacated; saying that directions to the jury were confusing, convoluted, and lacked specific instructions on the theory of aiding and abetting, according to court documents obtained by the Providence Journal.

The state plans to appeal the decision.

Whitaker remains held without bail at the Adult Correctional Institutions, but his lawyer, George J. West, told the newspaper he might seek his client’s release.

Joel Jackson’s aunt, Cecelia Jackson, said Thursday her family is devastated that Whitaker is closer to being released. “This is the consequences that you suffer. And now he wants to get out 14 years later. I can’t understand that.

“He [Whitaker] ruined his life, and he ruined a family’s life, and now he’s back to do it again,” she said.

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