CINCINNATI (AP) — A man freed after nearly four decades in prison when a witness said he lied as a boy came to Cincinnati on Tuesday to thank the law project that worked to win his freedom.
A beaming Ricky Jackson told members of the Ohio Innocence Project and others at the University of Cincinnati that he would have walked to Cincinnati from Cleveland if necessary to thank the people he says "saved my life."
"They came through like a knight in shining armor," he said of the project at UC's College of Law. It works to free people using DNA evidence but took Jackson's case despite the lack of DNA.
Project staff attorney Brian Howe said before Jackson's remarks that they had seen many weaknesses in the case against Jackson, and they were skeptical of the witness' testimony before he told his pastor and then authorities that he had lied.
"And Ricky Jackson is so compelling that it was impossible not to believe in his innocence," Howe said.
Jackson, 57, was released from prison Friday after a judge in Cleveland dismissed the cases against him and Wiley Bridgeman, 60. The witness, who was 12 years old at the time of the slaying, recanted last year and said Cleveland police coerced him into testifying that the two men and another man killed Cleveland businessman Harry Franks in 1975.
Jackson, at ease and drawing laughs at times from the crowd of students, faculty, staff and project donors, said their support was the reason he was standing before them a free man. He acknowledged coming close at times to saying he was guilty so he might win parole.
"But I just couldn't do it," he said, adding that it would not have gotten justice for him or Franks' family.
Jackson was imprisoned for 39 years, serving a life sentence for aggravated murder and other charges.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty has said the case fell apart after witness Eddie Vernon recanted his testimony. Vernon said he kept quiet because investigators threatened to imprison his parents.
Jackson said Tuesday that he did hate Vernon at first, but later realized he was just a child. He says he would like to meet with Vernon in private to tell him he forgives him and to thank him.
"He made a bad thing right," Jackson said.
Vernon couldn't be reached for comment. A phone number listed for him is disconnected.
When asked about his future, Jackson said he is just "living in the moment."
"Life is so beautiful right now," he said.
A fund set up by the project to help Jackson as he tries to readjust to life outside prison has already raised almost $43,000, project Director Mark Godsey said.