CLEVELAND (Reuters) - A Cleveland judge dropped all charges on Wednesday against a man who has spent 39 years in prison for murder, making him the longest-held U.S. prisoner to be exonerated, an attorney for the Ohio Innocence Project said.
Ricky Jackson, 57, will walk free on Friday after paperwork is completed, attorney Mark Godsey said.
Jackson was convicted along with two others for the 1975 murder of Harold Franks, a Cleveland-area money order salesman, after 12-year-old Eddie Vernon testified he saw the attack, according to court documents.
Vernon, now 53, recanted his testimony and told authorities he had never actually witnessed the crime. There was no other evidence linking Jackson to the killing.
Attorneys for the Ohio Innocence Project in March filed a motion for a new trial usafter Vernon told a pastor he was on a school bus at the time of the murder, which other witnesses have confirmed.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty said in court Tuesday that without an eyewitness there was not much of a case.
“The state is conceding the obvious,” he said.
Jackson was exonerated by Cuyahoga County Judge Richard McMonagle on Wednesday.
Cleveland police did link a .38 revolver and a green convertible seen at the crime scene to another man who was arrested three years later for aggravated murder in connection with a spree of daytime robberies, according to court records. He was never charged in the murder of Franks.
The two other men convicted with Jackson, brothers Ronnie and Wiley Bridgeman, have also filed for a new trial but those petitions have not been resolved. Ronnie Bridgeman was released in 2003, but his brother remains in prison.
Jackson was originally sentenced to death but that sentence was vacated due to a paperwork error. The Bridgemans remained on death row until Ohio declared the death penalty unconstitutional in 1978.
“One of them came within 20 days of execution before Ohio ruled the death penalty unconstitutional,” Godsey said.
Reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by Fiona Ortiz and Eric Beech