I don’t know if this story will bring you closure, but it may leave you with a greater sense of conscience and the affirmation that, “If he can forgive after what happened to him, maybe I can too.”
The year was 1975. Ricky Jackson was 18 years old when he and his friend, Wiley Bridgeman were convicted for the murder of a money-order collector at a grocery store in Cleveland. Jackson was named as the shooter…erroneously. In actulity, he had nothing to do with the man’s death.
But that didn’t matter…the police had a witness.
They had a 12-year-old boy named Eddie Vernon, who said Jackson was the shooter, even though Vernon was not actually near the crime when it happened. But the boy was eager to help the police, so he created a tale and fed it to them. Vernon created the number of assailants involved in the crime, the weapon they used and the make and model of the getaway car.
That was his story and he was sticking to it.
It was a story he shared with prosecutors and juries and they ate it up. His testimony help put Jackson and his friend on death row (they were originally sentenced to death until a commute of the sentences in 1977 made it life in prison due to a mistake in jury instructions.
But Vernon’s life after the lie was anything but easy, as Jackson sat in prison. Vernon suffered from the guilt that comes with telling lies that had put a man away for something he didn’t do.
“They knew that I didn’t see anything. Everybody knew that it was a lie,” he admitted.
“All these years I’ve been holding this shame and guilt inside, wanting to release it, wanting to come forward and do the right thing.”
Well, let’s just say that Vernon, now 52, had a come to Jesus moment and eventually told his pastor about the false testimony back in 2013. He recanted his story at a hearing in 2013 in a Cleveland court; saying what he had been told to say by police and the fact that he wasn’t anywhere near the grocery store when the crime occurred. On November 20, a motion was filed in Cuyahoga County in Ohio to have Jackson and Bridgeman released from prison. After 39 years behind bars, Jackson, now 57, was finally free.
But true freedom could only come, according to Jackson, after he decided to forgive Vernon.
CBS captured the first meeting between the two men at Vernon’s church, seven weeks after Jackson’s release. Vernon broke down in tears, afterwards saying, “Wow. How could this man hug and embrace me after all these years?”
To which Jackson states, he didn’t always feel that way.
“For a lot of years I really hated him for what he did to us. But I knew I had to do this because I desperately want to move forward with my life and the only way I can do that is to forgive him.”
Even after losing a majority of his adult life, Ricky Jackson still has big plans for his future, and there’s no room for the pain of the past.
Learn more at Cleveland.com.