April V. Taylor
Ricky Jackson spent nearly four decades in jail for a crime he did not commit. He was recently released after spending more time behind bars than any exonerated U.S. prisoner in history based on records kept by the Ohio Innoncence Project and the National Registry of Exonerations. Jackson was 18 when he was arrested and found guilty of robbing and shooting a money-order salesman in 1975. He was originally placed on death row but later had his sentence commuted to life. Twelve year old Edward Vernon was largely responsible for Jackson’s conviction, testifying under oath that he saw Jackson pull the trigger and kill the victim. The problem with that testimony was that Vernon was actually several blocks away on a school bus when the crime occurred.
Despite having no physical evidence, Jackson was convicted of the crime along with Wiley Bridgeman and Kwame Ajamu. Finally, in 2019, Vernon recanted his testimony, stating that he had been told what to say. Vernon specifically stated, “They knew that I didn’t see anything. Everybody knew it was a lie. All these years I’ve been holding this shame and guilt inside, wanting to come forward and do the right thing.”
After Jackson’s release from prison on November 21, Jackson and Vernon met for the first time outside of a courthouse, and the video of the two men is heart-wrenching. Jackson smiles and holds his hand out to the man responsible for him spending decades behind bars, with no indication of anger or resentment. He tells Vernon, “It took a lot of courage to do what you did. Thank you man.” As the two embrace, Vernon begins to sob, telling Jackson that he is sorry, and then Jackson says the unthinkable, “It’s all right brother. We were both victims man. It’s alright. I do forgive you man. I wanted to be here personally to tell you that.”