CLEVELAND-Friday, Ricky Jackson will be a free man.
The 57-year-old Cleveland man has spent the last 39 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.
This all comes after a witness confessed Tuesday that he lied as a boy back in 1975 when he testified he saw Jackson and two other men kill a man near University Circle in Cleveland.
“The first time the witness recanted was to his pastor in a hospital bed in 2013. And it was his pastor who encouraged him to come forward, to speak about his involvement in the case back in 1975. The pastor encouraged him to admit he did not really witness what happened back in 1975,” said Brian Howe, an attorney with the Ohio Innocence Project.
Jackson was serving a life sentence for aggravated murder.
The OIP, which is based in Cincinnati, took on his case many years ago.
Howe took over as Jackson’s attorney in early 2014.
“This was not a case where we could have found DNA or physical evidence to exonerate him early on. So, the case became about trying to find people who knew what happened. And I think the article in Cleveland Scene was a big step forward in that direction,” said Howe.
“I absolutely believed they were wrongfully convicted. I worked on this story for six months. Just going through old court documents, contacting people from their neighborhood where they all grew up, I was absolutely convinced they were wrongfully convicted,” said Kyle Swenson, former staff writer for Cleveland Scene.
Swenson was contacted by one of the other men convicted in the case and started his own investigation in early 2011.
He went on to write an article published in Cleveland Scene called, “What the Boy Saw: A child’s testimony put three men on death row. The neighborhood saw it differently.”
What was eventually discovered was that witness Eddie Vernon, who was 12 at the time, was coerced by investigators to testify he saw Jackson and two brothers kill a money-order collector, despite no physical evidence connecting them to the crime.
“I had hundreds and hundreds of pages of notes. I had the original case filings that no one else had ever seen before, other than the original lawyers. All the testimony from Vernon that was inconsistent on the stand. I gave the Ohio Innocent Project all my stuff,” said Swenson.
Tuesday, Eddie Vernon admitted he lied on the stand.
“To see him get up on the stand and admit he was coerced into giving testimony and that he had done this awful, terrible thing, I gave him a lot of props for that. It was a very courageous moment,” said Swenson.
Meantime, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty released a statement Wednesday saying, “The state concedes the obvious” and “We were defending our case, and it didn’t hold up.”
Howe says Jackson will be released from prison sometime Friday morning.
Attorneys for the two convicted brothers, Wiley and Ronnie Bridgeman, are also expected to ask for a new trial based on Vernon’s testimony.
They are expected to ask prosecutors to drop that case, as well.
Ronnie Bridgeman spent almost 28 years in prison, and his brother remains behind bars.
“These are guys whose lives have been ruined. Jackson was in jail for 39 years. Unbelievable to think about and not to be angry or bitter about the situation. He seems to have retained his dignity and his integrity. I think that’s a great testament to who he is,” said Swenson.