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Court Upholds Death Sentence of Hit Man

August 28, 1996

A Los Angeles man's death sentence for the contract killing of a former professional basketball player's wife has been upheld by the state Supreme Court.

Noel Jackson was convicted of the December 1984 murder of Sonja Niles outside her home in the Riverside County community of Corona. Prosecutors said Jackson had been hired by the victim's husband, Michael Niles, to kill his wife and had been promised $5,000 from her $100,000 life insurance policy.

Michael Niles was tried along with Jackson but before a separate jury, which rejected a death sentence and sent him to prison for life without parole.

Each man claimed the other had fired the fatal shot from a shotgun pressed against the victim's head. Jackson's jury found that he was the gunman and recommended a death sentence, which was imposed by the late Superior Court Judge William Mortland.

Mortland barred evidence of a lie-detector test, administered by Redlands police officers, that found Jackson told the truth when he said Niles had killed his wife. The court upheld Mortland's decision, saying polygraph evidence had not been proven reliable enough to be admissible.

Niles, a 6-foot-6 forward, played basketball at Cal State Fullerton and spent a year in the NBA with the Phoenix Suns in the 1980-81 season.

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