Ricky Jackson was just 20 and fresh out of the Marines when he went to jail for murder in 1975. Authorities pinned the killing of Harold Franks, a fifty nine-year-old money order clerk in Cleveland, on Jackson and two of his friends, brothers Wiley and Ronnie Bridgeman. The conviction came on the testimony of a single twelve-year-old boy with bad eyesight and a confused story.
He spent the next 39 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
Jackson was released last Friday, the last of the trio to be freed after that witness, Eddie Vernon, admitted he made up his testimony under police pressure. Today, Jackson was in Cincinnati to thank those who worked tirelessly to help free him.
“I would have walked if it would have come to that,” Jackson said to a packed house on University of Cincinnati's campus. “I wanted to come meet the people instrumental in saving my life.”
The Ohio Innocence Project, which runs out of University of Cincinnati’s College of Law, has been working on Jackson's case since 2010, digging for years to get public records about the case. A Cleveland Scene article in 2011 focused more attention on the story as well. Since those beginnings, OIP has played a huge role in getting Jackson exonerated.
OIP was founded in 2003 to investigate and litigate cases where prisoners have been wrongly convicted and imprisoned. The group is made up of UC Law professors and students who use DNA evidence, new witnesses, evidence of police misconduct, and other information to exonerate wrongfully convicted inmates. In just over a decade, they’ve helped free 18 inmates who were wrongfully convicted of murder and other charges. Jackson is the longest-serving inmate in Ohio to be exonerated.
Jackson’s codefendant Ronnie Bridgeman was paroled in 2010, but Jackson’s parole board continued to keep him in prison. Jackson says parole boards wanted him to admit guilt and express regret for the crime before they released him. The only problem was, he was innocent.
“I was on the cusp a lot of times,” he said of confessing. “It seemed like, to me, the only way I was going to get out was to admit guilt. But there was a lot more at stake than just me saying I committed the crime when I know I didn’t. That man’s family gets no justice, I get no justice… at the end of the day I just couldn’t lay down with that in my heart.”
He passed the time by staying fit and helping run the prison’s horticultural project. He ran a greenhouse, something he enjoyed immensely. Still, the time was wearing on him.
“After my last parole board hearing, I was really at an all time low,” he said. “I’m running out of time. I’m 57. How much time to do I really have left? I hate to use this cliché, but they came through like a knight in shining armor. When I was at my eleventh hour, didn’t know what direction I was going to take… these guys came.”
Mark Godsey, director of the Ohio Innocence Project, says Jackson was steadfast in his innocence. He recalls first meeting Jackson at a recent hearing on his request for a new trial in light of witness Vernon recanting his testimony. Prosecutors were offering Jackson a deal — once again, if he would say he was guilty, he could walk free.
“He just looked at us and said, ‘I don’t need anymore time to think about it. I will not take that deal,' ” Godsey recalls. Prosecutors soon conceded that without their only witness, they had no case. Jackson was free.
There are challenges ahead, to be sure. He spent many of his formative years — when most people go to college, start careers, and build families — behind bars.
The OIP is stepping in again with assistance. The group has raised nearly $43,000 to help Jackson get a new start. They’re also fighting the state of Ohio to get a settlement for him based on his wrongful conviction. That could be huge — $40,000 for every year he was imprisoned, plus lost wages and other damages. But it’s not guaranteed. Sometimes, prosecutors fight against these settlements. So far, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office has not officially acknowledged that Jackson and the Bridgemans are innocent or that they were wrongly imprisoned.
In the meantime, Jackson says he’s not sure just yet what he’ll do. But he says he’s up for the challenge of building a life.
“It’s not difficult at all," he said. "Compared to what I just came from, this is beautiful.”
Hoping to take advantage of a recent federal court ruling in Kentucky, the Ohio Democratic Party joined a lawsuit filed today that seeks to abolish the restrictions imposed on judicial candidates in Ohio.
The Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this month struck down the rules used in Kentucky for electing judges, stating they violated the judicial candidates’ First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The rules prohibited candidates from listing their party affiliation on the ballot, or to directly solicit campaign contributions.
News junkies probably heard about the warnings issued by Cincinnati City Hall this week, reminding citizens of its “ticket amnesty” program: Anyone with unpaid parking tickets should pay now or possibly have their vehicles impounded by police.
What City Hall didn't announce was that as of last month, 429 of the nearly 62,000 unpaid parking tickets were issued to municipal employees — including some cops and firefighters.
The city of Cincinnati and its largest city employees union have reached a deal regarding the privatization of the city’s parking assets. Under the deal’s terms, the city will give raises and not lay off anyone for three years, but only if the city’s parking assets are privatized. However, the head of a Clifton community group is still not happy with the privatization plan. He says the plan is bad for business because it limits the amount of affordable parking in the area. But would laying off 344 city employees be better for business?
The identity of the Miami University student who put up
the infamous “Top Ten Ways to Get Away with Rape” flier may soon be revealed. The Ohio Supreme Court
will decide by Dec. 14 whether the case should be unsealed and open to public view. Robert Lyons, the Butler County part-time judge who sealed the case, has faced scrutiny in the past few months for conflicts of interest regarding drinking-and-driving cases.
Revenue from casinos in Toledo and Cleveland is dropping. The numbers paint a bad picture for Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials expecting budget problems to be solved by casino revenue.
A proposal mandating drug testing for welfare recipients in Ohio resurfaced last week. Republican legislators claim the requirement will save the state money, but a similar proposal in Florida added to budget woes as the state was forced to pay for drug tests.
Ohio’s ultra-wealthy population is growing. About 1,330 Ohioans are worth $30 million or more, an increase of 2 percent since 2011, according to a report from Wealth-X. The news could shape Gov. John Kasich’s plan to cut the income tax using revenue from a higher oil-and-gas severance tax, perhaps encouraging state officials to make the cut more progressive.
Gov. Kasich is ending the practice of giving so many tax credits to keep businesses in Ohio. The move could potentially cost the state jobs as businesses move to other areas with bigger, better incentives, but state officials and the business community don’t seem too worried for now.
If the Ohio government agencies were forced to cut their budgets by 10 percent, the results would not be pretty. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction would have to close prisons, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources would have a tougher time enforcing new regulations on fracking.
Ohio’s exotic animal law is facing a challenge in federal court today. Exotic animal owners claim the law violates their First Amendment and property rights by forcing them to join private associations and give up their animals without compensation. They also do not like the provision that requires microchips be implanted into the animals. The Humane Society of the United States is defending the law, which was passed after a man released 56 exotic animals and killed himself in 2011.
An Ohio court said a business tax on fuel sales must be used on road projects.
Ohio gas prices are still dropping.
The cure for leukemia could be a modified version of the AIDS virus.
Homeless advocates gathered in front of the Hamilton County Courthouse on Wednesday to speak out against the county sheriff’s attempts to evict homeless people sleeping at the courthouse and Hamilton County Justice Center with the threat of jail time.
The press conference came on the same day that four local homeless filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil’s new policy is cruel and unusual because it punishes people for being homeless.
Charmaine McGuffey, head of the Hamilton County Justice Department, says the policy is necessary to address a public health issue. She explains that every morning county officials are forced to clean up urine and feces left by the homeless the night before, and often the county doesn’t have the resources to completely disinfect the areas.
Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, says county officials should stop using taxpayer money to address public defecation and focus on the state of the economy. He’s asking locals to tell county officials, “I want my government to invest in jobs and housing, not in pushing people to the margins.”
If the policy remains, Spring says the county could at least compromise and hold enforcement until the winter shelter opens, which would provide another housing opportunity for many of the homeless people who currently rely on county buildings for a safe spot to sleep.
McGuffey says the current timeline for the winter shelter opening — two months — is too much time to wait for what she describes as a public health issue. She says it’s also unclear whether local organizations, which are still gathering funds for the shelter, will have enough money to open it.
At the press conference, Spring was joined by several homeless people who shared their experiences. All the speakers echoed a similar theme: They’re not homeless by choice, and they only sleep on county property because it’s much safer than the alternatives, such as alleys and abandoned buildings.
McGuffey insists no one is trying to demonize homeless people. She says officers try to link homeless people with local human services when possible. Some of that outreach is already underway through trained officers and neighborhood liaisons, and starting next week the county will bring in a trained mental health professional to act as an advocate and outreach coordinator.
But if help can’t be found, McGuffey says officers have to threaten arrest to invoke a “sense of immediacy” or homeless people might never leave the properties and the public health issue would go unaddressed.
So far, the sheriff’s office sees the program as successful. Over the past four weeks, it’s brought down the amount of homeless people camping out at the Hamilton County Courthouse and Justice Center each night from 40 to 12, according to McGuffey. She says the reductions exemplify people who were redirected to human services, but there’s no hard evidence showing those people actually got help or whether the reduction is temporary.
Spring says there aren’t enough human services to get all of the city’s homeless help. That, he claims, is the real problem that needs local officials’ attention.
Over the past decade, City Council fell far short of its funding goal for human services,
which aid homeless and low-income Cincinnatians.
candidates, including Chris Seelbach, Greg Landsman and Mike Moroski,
say increasing human services funding to 1 percent of the operating budget will be a
priority for them over the next few years. The increase would represent an
improvement, but it would still fall short of the city’s 1.5 percent goal.
Meanwhile, Strategies to End Homelessness aims to reduce homelessness in Hamilton County from more than 7,000 to roughly 3,500 over the next five years through an initiative backed by the city and county.
As part of Homelessness Awareness Month, Spring and other
advocates will march in support of homeless causes later this month. The
march will begin at 3 p.m. on Oct. 26 at 1300 Vine St. in Over-the-Rhine.
Amid increasing right-wing bellowing about illegal immigrants, Ohio's top elections official is defending the practice of providing bilingual ballots.
Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has released a video, “Bilingual Ballots: A Human Perspective,” that interviews people of Puerto Rican descent in Cuyahoga County.
Cincinnati officials today released an updated list of City Hall employees who have unpaid parking tickets, and the list includes members of the Police and Fire departments.
A total of 311 municipal employees have delinquent parking tickets, totaling $30,662 in unpaid fines, as of May 4th. That amounts to about 0.25 percent of the total amount of delinquent tickets, said a city spokeswoman.