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.”
A Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals judge has denied the Milford-Miami Advertiser's request to appeal a 2012 ruling that charged the Gannett-owned suburban weekly with defamation and ordered the paper to pay the defamed plaintiff $100,000 in damages.
In an article published in the Advertiser on May 27, 2010 titled "Cop's suspension called best move for city," the paper implicated Miami Township police officer James Young, who years before had been mired in legal trouble for accusations of sexual assault that were eventually disproven, in its article discussing another sex scandal in the area.
According to court documents, in 1997, Young was initially fired from his job after a woman named Marcie Phillips accused Young of forcing her to perform oral sex on him while Young was on duty. An internal investigation revealed that the two had actually been engaged in a relationship prior and that Young had spent time at Phillips' house while on duty. The allegations, however, were entangled in questions about Phillips' character and concern that she could have been lying about the rape because the relationship between the two had recently ended on rocky terms.
When DNA testing on semen found on a rug in the woman's home proved that the DNA didn't match Young's, he was exonerated and reinstated to his position.
The Advertiser article explained that Young had been terminated for sexual harassment, immoral behavior, gross misconduct and neglect in the line of duty and also stated that "Young had sex with a woman while on the job," which formed the basis for Young's defamation suit.
The 2010 article dealt with similar accusations lodged against Milford Police Officer Russell Kenney, who pleaded guilty to charges that he'd been having sex with Milford Mayor Amy Brewer while he was on duty on multiple occasions.
Kenney was suspended from his position for 15 days, but was later reinstated even though Milford's police chief planned to recommend his termination to avoid having to use an arbitrator to dissect the case.
Although the article is attributed to writer Kellie Giest, the lawsuit revealed that the paper's editor at the time, Theresa Herron, inserted the section of the article that went to trial. According to court documents, Herron added the paragraphs about Young to Giest's story because she felt the article needed more context about why the city wanted to avoid arbitration.
According to court documents from the suit Young filed against the Gannett Satellite Information Network, Gannett responded the to initial complaint by acknowledging that the statement was a defamation of character, but that the statement was made without actual malice on the part of Herron. There is a high legal threshold for plaintiffs to establish a defamation claim, which require the plaintiff to prove several elements beyond a reasonable doubt; for public officials, the threshold is even higher because they most prove that the offender acted with actual malice — in this case, knowing the claim about Young was false and printing it anyway — to win a lawsuit.
In its appeal, Gannett argued that Young, as a police officer, did not meet the threshold of a public official required to successfully establish a defamation claim and that Herron's inclusions were based on rational interpretations of documents on the case — even though Young denied having sex with plaintiff Marcie Phillips, he admitted the two had kissed and the arbitrator's report documented one instance in which Young was at Phillips' house while on duty.
In the court's opinion denying Gannett's appeal, Judge John Rogers writes that Herron admitted she had read the arbitrator's report from Young's case, which provided no evidence that Young and Phillips ever actually had sex at all.
"There was sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that Herron was well aware that the statement she added to the article was probably false," it reads. "Herron was also reckless in failing to conduct any investigation beyond the records of the original case. She did not seek out Young for comment, nor did she talk to anyone involved in his case."
Hamilton County has been killing people more often than Ohio counties of similar size, despite actually asking for the death penalty less often. Today's Enquirer takes a look at the growing opposition to the death
penalty in other states and recent legislation and task forces aimed
at either studying its effectiveness or stopping the practice
altogether. Prosecutor Joe Deters says he's going to kill all the people who deserve it because the law is still the law.
Would you like to pay tolls or higher gas taxes in order to have a new Brent Spence Bridge? No? Then you're like a majority of people who take the time to respond to Enquirer polls.
City Manager Milton Dohoney plans to ask City Council to raise the property tax rate in response to a projected $33 million 2013 deficit that everyone knows was coming.
The Community Press on the East Side says Norfolk Southern is willing to consider selling the Wasson Way right of way that some would like to see turned into a bike trail. CityBeat in March found the proposed trail to have support among cycling enthusiasts but some resistance from light rail supporters.
President Obama hooked up an 11-year-old kid with a note excusing him from class on Friday.
“He says, ‘Do you want me to write an excuse note? What’s your teacher’s name?” Sullivan told ABC. “And I say, Mr. Ackerman. And he writes, ‘Please excuse Tyler. He was with me. Barack Obama, the president.'"
Fortune magazine has taken exception to Mitt Romney's recent criticism of Solyndra, the solar panel company that went out of business despite a $500 million Department of Energy loan.
So last Thursday Romney held a surprise press conference at Solyndra's shuttered headquarters. During his prepared statement, Romney said:
"An independent inspector general looked at this investment and concluded that the Administration had steered money to friends and family and campaign contributors."
Romney then repeated the claim later in the press conference.
Small problem: No inspector general ever "concluded" such a thing, at least not based on any written reports or public statements.
Wisconsin Gov./Union Crusher Scott Walker holds a slight lead over his Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, according to a recent poll.
George Zimmerman is back in jail after what his attorney is calling a misunderstanding over telling a judge that he had limited money even though a website set up to fund his legal defense raised more than $135,000.
Legal issues will be involved in New
York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's attempt to ban giant sodas.
Jason Alexander has released a lengthy and quite thoughtful apology for referring to the sport of cricket as "a bit gay" during a recent appearance on The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson.
Why do people on the West Coast get to see all the cool stuff that happens in space? First the eclipse and now the Transit of Venus, when Venus will cross paths between the sun and earth. Next time it will happen is 2117. And Australia got to see a partial lunar eclipse the other day, too.
The National Whistleblowers Center (NWC) is urging the Obama administration to use a law signed by President Abraham Lincoln against BP, as a method to circumvent any limits on damages it can seek from the company.
After 18 months in the courts, Democrat Tracie Hunter has won a Hamilton County Juvenile Court judgeship, but a GOP challenge to the court's acceptance of Hunter's challenge is likely to follow. Republican John Williams led hunter by 23 votes on election night 2010, but Hunter filed a lawsuit over provisional ballots cast at incorrect polling stations that weren't counted. After a recount of 286 provisional ballots, Hunter moved ahead by 74 votes. Republican board of election members reportedly plan to argue that the 286 should not have been recounted.
The Enquirer's Mark Curnutte today offered an analysis of recently released census data that shows a steady growth of the regional Hispanic population and a growth of minority population in areas outside the city that were once largely white. Cincinnati's data suggests that the city and region are slightly different than the nation's overall trend, which in 2011 for the first time found a majority of the country's under 1-year-old population minority (50.4 percent), up from 49.5 percent in 2010.
Included in The Enquirer's story, which included a profile of a Mexican-American Florence family that moved to Northern Kentucky eight years ago from Los Angeles:
A decrease of 1.3 percentage points in Hamilton County’s black population under 5 was countered by increases in the black population under 5 in each of the region’s six other core counties: Butler, Clermont and Warren in Ohio and Boone, Campbell and Kenton in Kentucky.
Overall, the regional population of Hispanic children under 5 years rose from 7,583 in 2010 to 8,032 in 2011, a proportional increase of 0.4 percentage points to 6.1 percent.
The family of a teenager fatally shot by a Cincinnati police officer on Fountain Square last summer has filed a federal lawsuit alleging police used excessive force and violated 16-year-old Davon Mullins' constitutional rights. Police say Mullins pulled a handgun, but the lawsuit says he had been disarmed before officer Oscar Cyranek shot him multiple times.
Cincinnati's Bike Month revelers and Over-the-Rhine residents received some good news this week when Reser Bicycle Outfitters announced the opening of an OTR location. The store could open by June 1 in the 1400 block of Vine Street.
Legislation regulating ownership and breeding of exotic animals has been approved by the Ohio House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, 17-4. Senate Bill 310 could get through the full House and Senate next week and be signed by Gov. John Kasich soon afterward. The ban on the acquisition, sale and breeding of certain species would take affect 90 days later.
Former Senator John Edwards will learn his fate today, as a jury was set to deliberate this morning on charges that Edwards used campaign funds to conceal an affair during his run for president.
More than 200 pages of documents, photos and audio recordings were released yesterday offering further details about what happened the night George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin.
The documents include an FBI audio analysis of the 911 call placed by a resident that captured yells and screams. Two FBI examiners said they could not determine whether it was Martin or Zimmerman yelling because of the poor quality of the recording and the "extreme emotional state" of screamer.
Cell phone maker Nokia has accused Apple of programming bias into its interactive Siri voice search by making it answer the question “What is the best smartphone ever?” by stating “"Wait... there are other phones?" The answer had apparently previously been “Nokia's Lumia 900.” Apple won't say whether or not it changed Siri's answer after finding the glitch.
A new study suggests that nighttime fasting can go a long way toward keeping you slim even if you eat bad stuff during the day.
Scientists have found a car-sized turtle shell.
The private space launch is scheduled for 4:55 a.m. Saturday, and there will be alcohol involved.