Witness recants, freeing Ohio man after 39 years
Cleveland — A man who spent nearly four decades in prison after being convicted of murder is expected to be freed Friday after a witness confessed he lied as a boy when he told jurors he saw the deadly attack.
Ricky Jackson had been seeking a new trial and sobbed loudly with his face in his hands as prosecutors dismissed his case Tuesday, The Plain Dealer reported.
“I can’t believe this is over,” Jackson, 57, said, thanking his supporters and his attorneys from the Ohio Innocence Project.
Jackson was serving a life sentence for aggravated murder and other charges, according to state prison records. He is expected to be released as soon as the paperwork is finished.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said the case fell apart after witness Eddie Vernon recanted. Vernon said he had been fed details of the crime by police and kept quiet about his lies because investigators had threatened to imprison his parents.
Vernon was 12 when he accused Jackson and two brothers in the May 1975 killing of a money-order collector who authorities said was beaten, shot and attacked with acid as he walked near a grocery store. No evidence connected the defendants to the crime, but all three were convicted by juries.
This week, Vernon told a judge he was trying to please others when he provided a false story based on information from a friend and police who fed him details, creating a web of lies that helped convict Jackson and the other men. He said he gave authorities the names of the three men because he thought he was doing the right thing.
“All the information was fed to me,” said Vernon, who came forward to change his story after speaking with a pastor. “I don’t have any knowledge about what happened at the scene of the crime.”
He said he had been nearby on a bus when he heard two pops, but couldn’t see what occurred. Others who were on the bus also testified that he wasn’t in position to see the slaying.
Prosecutors had been skeptical of Vernon but acknowledged after the hearing that the case didn’t hold up.
“You made the right choice,” Judge Richard McMonagle told McGinty.
Attorneys for the two convicted brothers, Wiley and Ronnie Bridgeman, also sought a new trial based on Vernon’s information and are expected to ask prosecutors to drop that case, too, the newspaper reported.
Ronnie Bridgeman spent more than 25 years in prison, and his brother remains incarcerated.