He Spent 40 Years Behind Bars For A Crime He Never Committed. Now He’s Suing Cops
Emotions ran high in a Cleveland courtroom as 58-year-old Ricky Jackson was exonerated of a 1975 murder. After serving almost 40 years in prison, the Ohio man walked away with his freedom. His conviction had originally carried a death sentence, but the penalty was reduced to life imprisonment a short time later. Upon the recantation of the key witness against him, Jackson’s case was reopened in 2014, and the verdict was overturned. Now the Cuyahoga County resident is suing both the city and the police officers responsible for his prosecution four decades ago.
The fiasco began at a corner grocery store on May 19, 1975 when a salesman, Harold Franks, was attacked and killed by two robbers. The assailants shot the victim twice in the chest while a third bullet penetrated a glass door and struck the store’s co-owner, Ann Robinson, in the neck. Although she survived, she was unable to identify the gunmen who had fled the scene. During the police investigation, a 12-year-old boy approached an officer claiming that he knew who had committed the crime. Eighteen-year-old Ricky Jackson was soon tried and convicted, along with his friends, Wiley and Ronnie Bridgeman, based almost solely on the testimony of the child. In spite of opposing witnesses and a lead that linked the getaway car to a different individual, police had charged the three young men without any physical evidence of their guilt.
Many years later, an article in Cleveland Scene Magazine brought the murder case back into public debate. Questions were raised concerning the lack of proof that Jackson and the Bridgeman brothers had killed Harold Franks. At the time, the middle-aged Eddie Vernon who had testified against them at the age of 12, refused to discuss the subject. Two years later, however, he confessed to his pastor that he had not actually witnessed the murder but had merely heard a rumor that had implicated the men. Vernon explained that he had thought he was helping by volunteering the information to the police at the crime scene but that officers had threatened him when he tried to recant later.
By 2014, attorneys with the Ohio Innocence Project were involved. They presented to the court a 2013 affidavit from Eddie Vernon declaring that his 1975 testimony had been a lie. In his confession, Vernon stated that he had failed to pick the criminal out of a line-up because he hadn’t actually seen the murder. Then he claimed that the police had threatened to send his parents to jail if he backed out. He asserted that his story about the crime was a combination of details given to him by the police and his own added fabrications. Vernon went on to describe his years of regret during which he was afraid to come forward with the truth.
Prosecutors promptly dismissed the case against Ricky Jackson who then became the longest incarcerated individual in U.S. history to be exonerated and released. Today, he and both of his friends are free. Now Jackson is seeking justice for his wrongful imprisonment. His recently filed federal lawsuit against the city of Cleveland names eight officers who, along with their department superiors, allegedly violated his civil rights by framing him for the 1975 murder. Although four of the officers are now deceased, the suit asks for a jury trial. Ricky Jackson has already been awarded more than a million dollars from Ohio’s Court of Claims.