He Went To Prison For A Murder He Didn’t Commit, Then Met The Man Who Put Him There
Rickey Jackson spent nearly four decades in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
In May of 1975, when a shopkeeper at a small Cleveland grocery store was slain during a robbery, Eddie Vernon, then 12 years old, served as the main witness in the case. Eddie — who, in fact, hadn’t seen anything — says he was pressured into testifying by police.
His testimony led to the convictions of three innocent people, including Rickey, who was 18. The three men initially received the death sentence, but that was reduced to life in prison in 1977. Shortly thereafter, capital punishment in Ohio was ruled unconstitutional.
It wasn’t until 2014 that Eddie, at age 52, came forward with the truth.
After your release, Rickey,you were60,youreached out to Eddie, 55, and you met up. Three years lateryou sat down together for your first in-depth conversation about what happened.
Ricky: Yes.I went through 39 years of incarceration because of some things that he put in motion. I asked him, “Throughout the years, did you ever think about me?”
Eddie:I said, “Yeah, all the time”. In factI wanted to trade places.It should be me instead of them. As I grew up, I was depressed, suicidal. I said, “It ate me up so much inside, man.”
No doubt, you Rickey, also thought of Eddie, all those years in prison.
Rickey:That’s it. I thought about Eddie, too — and I was full of hatred and loathing.I even used to fantasize about ways that I was going to kill him. We didn’t have any physical evidence to bring back into court. It was just him.
Surely you felt pangs of conscience, Eddie.
Eddie: Oh yes, it ate me up inside, I said.SofinallyI came forward because I was “tired.” I couldn’t live no more like that, Rickey. I know that so much was taken away from you all, so many years. You all deserved your freedom.
Rickey, did you recognize Eddie, when you met after so many years?
Rickey: I remember that day whenEddie walked into the courtroom hoping to amend his testimony. I almost didn’t recognize him. Andwhen they were cross-examining him … I saw the little, 12-year-old kid in him. But I also saw the strength of a man who had come there to do something, and the next thing I know, I’m a free man.
What was your reaction, Rickey?
Rickey: You see, it was a very courageous thing that he’s done. So I asked my lawyer if there was a way I could connect with Eddie.
But your hatred, did you still feel it?
Rickey: No, not a bit. When I saw him, all that stuff that I used to think about him, the animosity, I could hardly remember. And, it might have been my imagination, but when we embraced, it felt like he just got lighter in my arms.
What did you feel, Eddie, at that moment?
Eddie: I felt it, too. It took a whole lot off of my shoulders, the weight I’d been carrying for all these years.
Rickey:You did your part when it counted most. You know that?
Eddie:OK. Thank you.
How do people find, Rickey, you forgave Eddie?
Rickey: Well, people still find it hard to understand that I forgive him and I think people confuse that with forgetting. I’m not going to ever forget. But if forgiveness is my way out, I’ll gladly take it.
Eddie:And I thank God for that, man. I really do, Rickey.
Rickey:You know, after all that we’ve been throughto finally be sitting here face-to-face talking about what happened, I’m saying, one man to another, I wish you nothing but the best. Always.
After Eddie’s testimony, the two other men convicted of murder also had their convictions cleared. The murder remains unsolved.