Published on 21 Apr 2015

American inmates released after decades in prison

There were shouts of “Thank you, Jesus!” when the judge ruled that the three men’s convictions should not stand.

As they stood to leave the court, one, Derrick Wheatt, thumped his chest, tears streaming down his cheeks. Mothers, sisters, nephews, and brothers stood tearfully almost unable to believe that twenty years after their convictions, the East Cleveland Three would be released.

Also in the courtroom that day were lawyers and law students from the Ohio Innocence Project, who worked to free the men for a decade; and other exonerees, successfully freed by the project. Men charged with rape and murder, wrongfully convicted, and now at liberty.

Among them, Ricky Jackson, who holds the ignominious record for the person who served time the longest in the US penal system before he was released and the case against him thrown out.

It was 1975, when he and two other young black men were charged and convicted of the murder of a white businessman in Cleveland. The sole evidence against them was testimony provided by an alleged eyewitness, who was 12 at the time. Ricky has since met the man who was that child witness… and says he feels no anger.

Ricky Jackson

Instead, he says, the witness was a victim of the system just as much as he and his co-accused were. Ricky was, for a time, on death row. Ultimately he would spend 39 long years in prison. He was released at the end of last year.

We sat down with him, in his one bedroom efficiency – a modest flat – and talked to him about bitterness, America’s broken justice system, and what his future holds.

“Prison in America is a business, inmates are just commodities,” said Jackson.

“The system is not just broken, it needs to be dismantled because it’s not functioning. People are being exploited by the thousands, hundreds of thousands. And it’s not about crime and punishment any more it’s about the bottom line.”

Jackson described the day he was driven to prison, dressed in a jumpsuit for death row inmates.

“All the time I’m thinking they’re going to straighten this out, someone made a terrible mistake but the right person is going to come forward and say stop you got the wrong guys.

“I kept thinking this all the way up to that door slammed on my back. And I was looking at that cell, that’s when it finally hit me. They’re going to kill me. For nothing.”

Jackson said the fact that he was black made it easier for him to be convicted.

“Nobody really ever looked at the evidence of how we did it, we had an accuser, someone pointing the finger that’s good enough for us. And yes race did play a big part, big big part in this case.”

Kylie Morris has been covering US tensions over race – starting with the shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson last year. Watch more here.

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72 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:

    Kylie,

    This is first class journalism, missing for many years in C4 News from the USA. Thank you.

    There is no adequate compensation for the tragedy of innocence imprisoned, of lives willfully destroyed.

    Nor can Britain be complacent on the issue: Our own record of false convictions illegally obtained is every bit as disgusting, mitigated only by abolition of capital punishment.

    A terrible, terrible tragedy for which those guilty of false or negligent legal administration should face the full weight of justice they denied their victims. But I bet they don’t.

    1. John Quaye Quao says:

      It’s both SAD and UNACCEPTABLE that someone can be convicted of the most serious crime of murder only on witness of a minor ( in this case a 12 year old) 39 long years in jail for being innocent of a crime is just SHOCKING and the poor man MUST be adequately compensated.This man has wasted almost all his useful life in prison.

      1. Ernest Carraway says:

        John This is a shock to you? Are you from another country, or are you a white. Nothing in America shocks me. There will come a day soon,
        in which Christians will be killed, just for being Christ Believers. That’s when you should be shocked.

  2. Polly Poole Heitha says:

    Hi Kelie Morris, it’s exactly 02h00,Namibian time, when I woke up for a glass of water. I couldn’t fall asleep when I decided to scroll down my phone on Facebook to see what’s new and I saw the wonders you are doing. Kelie, your work is like a miracle in the lifes of the released men. Keep up with the good work. And with lawyer, Brian Howe, I hope you were a Namibian National, to ssort out the nonsense I went through before I was released from duty as a Soldier, in the Namibian Defense Forces. May God the Almighty be with you, your family and colleagues at the Ohio Innocence project.

  3. idayat Abiodun Rotimi Alfred says:

    This is sad. 39 yrs of imprisonment without committing a crime.

  4. Quanna Glover says:

    Thank you so much for your report it was beautifully written.
    The Glover family.

    1. Mel says:

      So happy for your family :-) God bless!

    2. RENEE says:

      THANK YOU QUANNA AND YOUR FAMILY FOR NEVER GIVING UP….YOU GUYS TAKE CARE LIVE, LAUGH, AND LOVE….GOD BLESS YOU ALL

  5. Kay Lincoln says:

    Thank you for this wonderful piece of journalism. As the daughter of a man wrongfully convicted and still awaiting his exoneration and homecoming, it is encouraging to see that the problematic American justice system is gaining awareness around the world. The stories of exonerated individuals are horrifying enough. The world needs to recognize the thousands of #wrongfulconviction victims still begging for jystice, and let America know they are being held accountable for this injustice! This must stop! Please read my father’s story at http://www.FreeRodneyLincoln.com. Thank You!

  6. Corey says:

    Congrats !!!! I’ve been down for 19 years and still fighting for my innocence. Nice to see and hear another success story

    1. MissHoneybee says:

      what state are you in? And have you checked to see if they have law students who work on cases like yours Corey. I live in Tennessee and some of the colleges do it here. Check with your counselor and see if there’s some in your area. Best of luck to you. I’m sorry you’re amongst those who have been wrongfully inprosoned.

    2. Tris says:
  7. Charlie Alston says:

    Its sad because my father. Charlie Mason Alston jr. Who has been looked up in North Carolina. For 25 years with any evidence on him DNa test even cleared him from any evidence in the case. The victim scratch the killer . The finger nails where lost before trial. How could that happen? My family has been asking that question for 25 years. The innocence project has picked up the case but has not had any effect on getting my father out. We are just looking for justice from the new slave trade…

    1. The Glover Family says:

      Don’t give up hope it took over 12 years to get to this point,stay prayerful and our family will pray for you as well.

  8. Indira says:

    Kylie Morris,

    Mailing you as a journalist all the way from New Zealand. A fantastic piece. Really respect this piece of brilliant journalism. It added so much value to my life since I viewed it.

    Thank you.

  9. belinda Gardner says:

    Thank you for this story, I have a friend in the very same situation, 40yrs in prison as an 18yr old. Freddie Glenn did not kill the sister of Kelsey Grammer…It is ashame so many have spent so decades in prison for crimes they themselves did not commit. God bless him and his family they are among the lucky few!!!

  10. Coqui091 says:

    I know in the same position for the last 40 years, Freddie Glenn the man convicted of killing actor’s Kelsey Grammer’s sister Ms. Karen Grammer. Freddie Glenn did not kill her. It is ashame so many have spent numerous decades in prison to crimes they did not commit. Many God bless him and his family. He is one of the lucky few….

  11. Kim Preston says:

    Take away the trumped up charges, fake and coerced confessions, planted evidence and downright BS arrests and half the Black men in prison would not be there….All these racist Judges, Procecutors and Cops should be charged and jailed. There are thousands of innocent men in jail right now that will spend countless years in the system for no other reason they are Black…Shameful indictment of the American justice system. I don’t discount the tens of thousands of White’s falsely arrested either, but the scope of the size of Black’s in jail is staggering to the size of our population. People need to held accountable.

    1. Kay Lincoln says:

      You are right. There is definitely racial bias in the American criminal justice system. There is also a large amount of class bias. My father is white, but has been incarcerated in Missouri since 1982 for a crime he did not commit. He was not rich or famous so the court system was perfectly content to let him be the scapegoat and be convicted of a heinous crime so they could secure a conviction and close their case. Read his tragic story here. http://Www.FreeRodneyLincoln.com
      It is time for America to wake up and rediscover the meaning of INNOCENT until PROVEN guilty, with no regard to race, gender, class, or social status!

  12. Earnestine says:

    Our system of so called justice is a shameful mixed up mess. Too many people in jail that are innocent. Some given time for the same thing many get a slap on the wrist for. Even some guilty of heinous crimes set free. Justice is not blind . She hides her face in shame behind that blindfold. So should some of our appointed & elected officials. Stepping on the backs of people to get their higher positions. True we must know that God has a reason for putting this system in place. Man,however, Is slave to imperfections. We must follow laws set by government because it is the right thing to do. Continue to pray for the will of God to be done. Soon

  13. rebecca says:

    I hope ricky is or as sued every penny from their god dam ass

  14. rebecca palmer says:

    I hope ricky is or as sued every penny from their god dam ass . Wishing you all the best ricky and the wrong convicted three .

  15. Keith Colquitt says:

    I’ve seen many cases of innocent people being released from America’s prisons over the years. In one case, a child (15 years old, I believe) created a tale of rape in order to avoid being punished for staying out too late. A man was apprehended by the police and the girl felt that she had no choice but to participate in his wrongful conviction. Years later, as a married woman, the girl and her husband came forward to fight for the man’s release. Unfortunately, the “justice system” didn’t fully accept the girl’s story. The man was released but remained under the microscope, so to speak. He got into a bar fight and was sent back to prison to serve out his original sentence.
    There are many innocent people in America’s jails. There are also lots of people who were convicted of nonviolent drug-related crimes (the vast majority of America’s prisoners) who deserve to be released. The rates of sales and use of illegal drugs in America is identical among black and white people. However, the overwhelming majority of those arrested, tried and incarcerated for these crimes are black. Blacks constitute 13.2% of all Americans and whites comprise 77.7%. Blacks comprise approximately 50% of America’s prison population. This is the epitome of political imprisonment. There is no legitimacy for a system that uses its laws to target and persecute its hated minority population. Barack Obama, his attorney general, Eric Holder, Republican congressman Rand Paul, and many others have noted the problems in the justice system but nothing is being proposed to address the evils. It’s amazing that we can complain about third world dictatorships when we have such repression in the “land of the free.”

  16. Peter Hart says:

    This is one of the most moving interviews I have ever seen. What a remarkable man is Jackson: a permanent inspiration. To have matured to such a degree under circumstances that would have broken most people – which we should not forget, and absolutely not lay blame – is an extraordinary achievement. Thank you, Kylie, for arranging, and bringing this to our screens

  17. Chazaree says:

    What state was the three men in

    1. Glover says:

      It was in Cleveland,Ohio.

  18. Maryse says:

    Thank you Kylie for bringing this story to our attention…

  19. dorothy johnson says:

    Wake up America, there are many more of our men locked up for life and are INNOCENT . Justice , were is the justice that we talk about in America.

    Congratulations to the brother on your freedom.

  20. Janie D. Bennett says:

    Thank God there is some one working, trying to free wrongfully convicted people get free. May God bless your efforts.

  21. Briana Walker says:

    I swear I’m sick to my stomach right now! These men have spent over half their lives locked up for something they did not do! You only live once, these men can’t regain their time!!

  22. Frederica I Goodlow says:

    Hello, I met Henry Earl Henderson in prison three years ago. He’s been in prison for 30 years for something he didn’t do. I’ve tried 2 help him as much as possible, but no one will even help. Right now the Adam Project in Dayton Ohio, is trying 2 c what they can do. I met Pastor McCorry here in St Louis at my church. I am praying that they can help this man 2 finally be free.

  23. pam thomas says:

    Another innocent has been released, its time America looked at its penal system and the powers that be, more time must be given to prove those accused are guilty instead of slamming them into prison, more attorneys need to look at the big picture instead of using greed as their defence. So the question begs to be asked how many more innocents are sitting on death row for a crime they did not commit, how many police departments got it wrong again and again and when is the USA going to admit inmates are just a commodity to them and not a person.

  24. Alan Young says:

    Their lives were destroyed like so many others still in jail. Now what? Our justice system sends people to prison too conveniently. Can we just legalize drugs already and treat people for their addictions and vices. It would be a fraction of the cost. Even though I would probably not have any compassion for someone who commits a heinous crime against me or my family; I do realize however that anyone who is voluntarily diabolical most likely suffers from some type of mental imbalance, addiction, depression, or abuse. The bottom line of course is that most people’s lives DO NOT MATTER in the US. Feeding the Prison Industrial Complex is what really matters.

  25. Joan Wesley says:

    My heart is filled with joy for each of them….Thank GOD for the OHIO INNOCENT PROJECT; nevertheless, my spirit is upset for these accounts of how the inequity of the application for justice is applied when and and how people of color are accepted as guilty when innocent. I have shaking my head and wanting to draw my sword!

  26. bill young says:

    These cases are typically at least 25 years old and many are older than that. This is an indication that juries and the system will no longer just have a child as an eyewitness and get a conviction. Obviously these guys had no alibis.

  27. Elizabeth says:

    And this too breaks my heart. I’ve noticed that in recent articles, all of these Men that have been exonerated happen to be Black. The majority of their lives STOLEN in exchange for cheap labor by the system TO FATTEN THE POCKETS OF THOSE ON WALL STREET. Irreplacable years they can never get back. STOLEN DREAMS -STOLEN FAMILYS -STOLEN CHANCES. We as Black people are treated so cruel by this Society. When Lord When will this stop?

  28. matt says:

    Thats soo sad……but that young lawyer is a hero in my eyes. I saw this on social media. Very powerful tool. Glad they are out and good luck. From terrace b.c canada.

  29. bill kennedy says:

    I know the feeling of being locked up it ant no fun your hole life is on hold
    til when god only knows my heart goes out to you guys enyoy the free life
    and feel comfortable in doing it.have fun with your familys and freinds
    .thanks bill.

  30. Lentino says:

    hi im lentino and i was watching this my heart is broken tears flowin respect for these mans and god bless them Love for tem and family greetinz lentino amen❤️

  31. criselda robles says:

    My brother got 30 years for somthing he didn’t do here in tx. But that was only if he plead guilty or get more years.please help ..

  32. Michael Madden says:

    “it’s not about crime and punishment any more it’s about the bottom line.” Ricky nailed it. Our criminal justice system is analogous to a sporting event, in which winning and losing is more important than the pursuit of truth and justice. While I have no doubt that race may have played a part in Ricky’s conviction, it’s not ALL about race. After all, my white son was convicted nearly 9 years ago for two crimes he did not commit and we STILL can’t get him freed in spite of a signed confession by the actual perpetrator. The San Diego innocence project has flown to Mississippi to get a statement from the actual perpetrator, and will hopefully be able to compel the courts to overturn my sons convictions.One of the sad realities I have learned throughout this ordeal is that 34 states don’t even have laws on the books to compensate wrongfully convicted people. Some guys like Ricky may never receive a dime from the country that deprived them of there eighth amendment rights. To learn more about how slow the wheels of justice turn in this country, in spite of the overwhelming proof of innocence, visit http://www.InnocentInmate.com

  33. d hagan says:

    And just who are at fault for the injustice that’s committed in the name of justice. I’d love to think that this would make others look at there own court systems and penile systems but I know I’m being naive. Hope is something to many hold onto without any chance of it being fulfilled.

  34. James dasher says:

    Been there for 38 years wrong man

  35. Joan says:

    When i look at the inmate docket to think that so many people can be behind bars and we as a society is allowing this to go on I am so sick to my stomach right now. WHY would we as the system have people sitting behind bars for petty crimes when they can be working making a difference in their home while the system pockets the money , its time America looked at its penal system and the powers that be, more time must be given to prove those accused are guilty instead of slamming them into prison, there is a need for poor people to be represented by attorneys and not public defenders who are over loaded with clients need to look at the big picture instead of using greed as their defense. So the question begs to be asked how many more innocents are sitting on death row for a crime they did not commit, how many police departments got it wrong again and again and when is the USA going to admit inmates are just a commodity to them and not a person.Wake up America, there are many more of our men locked up for life and are INNOCENT . Justice , were is the justice that we talk about in America there’s a NEED for deterrent to prison sentences if theirs anyone out there who know of such programs i would love to be involve email me. Good job Ohio innocent project

  36. tonia montgomery says:

    What if these men were put to death for a crime they didn’t commit,and you found out 39 yrs later they didn’t do it . That is why I am against the death penalty in cases like these where there is no DNA present at all even, eye witnesses can be mistaken too I,m glad the brother was were exonerated .

  37. Sharon Dalli says:

    God Bless you all
    The truth does come out.4

  38. patricia says:

    Why!!! Do they wait for years to work on these case…when they know these mens found not quity after a year.The first person to know is Him,GoD,then Lab DNA results… When these guys live to be almost 100 then they want to let them go…Now y’all know who’s at fault..comeeee onnnnn .

  39. Tris says:

    My son is currently serving time for a crime he did NOT commit… the arresting Officers and his cronies beat and tasered my son All the while making racist comments… upon realizing they had the wrong person, they planted false evidence on him. Even after one officer told the truth, one Judge dis not want to make the call so pass te buck to another Judge… smh… bottom line… like the 2nd Judge said “they going to believe a State Officer over your son.” The majority of those who are to “protect n serve” are just CROOKED!

    1. Kay Lincoln says:

      So sorry to hear that your family has suffered from a #wrongfulconviction. My father has been incarcerated in Missouri since 1982 for a crime he did NOT commit. He was convicted based on eyewitness identification testimony from a traumatized and manipulated 7-year-old child who was also a victim in the crime that claimed her mother’s life and nearly claimed her 4-year-old sister’s life. To bolster the identification that the police manufactured and convinced this child was true, they offered their sole piece of physical evidence; one hair found at the crime scene. The jury was told this hair was “a match” to my father several times. There were fingernail scrapings taken from the murder victim that contained skin, presumably that of the attacker. They were not really used at trial. There was no DNA testing in 1982.
      The Innocence Project has been fighting for my Dad since 2005. When the Innocence Project first requested DNA testing, the prosecutor said the fingernail scrapings could not be found and were presumed destroyed. The Innocence Project did not give up though and they were eventually found. Unfortunately they were too degraded to generate a DNA profile. The hair attributed to him at trial though, was proven to not be his hair. Unfortunately, this has not been enough to convince the Missouri courts to vacate his conviction. They have refused him justice at the circuit, appeals, and supreme court of Missouri. The Innocence Project is currently in the process of filing a Habeas Corpus petition to bring ALL proof of his innocence before a judge. We are praying this will finally result in justice for our family and the family of the victims. We will also keep your family in our prayers. Never give up. Keep fighting. The break you are looking for may just be around the very next corner. Please read my father’s story at http://www.FreeRodneyLincoln.com. Thank you.

  40. Todd Gianakos says:

    I have a brother that’s was convicted for murder now he’s spending life in prison to they had a book about him in the state Minnesota. if anyone knows any on who can help him please let me know.

    1. val Calip says:

      I am in the same situation as you. My brother T.J. was wrongfully convicted. I am in desperate need of help on how to fight for him. PLEASE HELP ME!!!!!

  41. corine baylock says:

    I am so happy for them. The one or ones that’s responsible for the crime should be accounted for this. As I speak, my son is in Angola faulsly accused to killing a young lady. No one wanted to hear his story n now he is serving a life sentence for a killing he didn’t do.I wish I can get someone to help me help my son. Ever since this has happened to my child I have become I’ll with kidney disease and has become half blind. Please if anyone is willing to help me help my son, pleaseplease email me for in eBay pocket shop.com

  42. Sharon Scott says:

    Beautiful peace on the injustice of our system. My brother is in his 3rd year of prison in Pennsylvania. He was a doctor, they said he wrote prescriptions that is over the limit, but there is no limit. I will fight the injustice that have been committed against my brother until the end.

  43. MClassik says:

    Does anyone know why they were released?

  44. ladybug says:

    This so wrong I believe that black men get it worst than poor white men! They should get paid! I’m happy they got released
    Have fun

  45. Deb says:

    I’m so sorry to read this. I’m constantly disappointed in hearing situations like this. Beautiful innocent souls losing there lives and time with families. This is the 3rd time today I have felt disgusted in human behaviour. I am so sorry for your loss and I pray the rest of your life makes up for this.

  46. hakemah says:

    I know god sent the angels to help these men wrongfully accused the innocent project is amazing

  47. John McDonough says:

    Not enough to be mad and disgusted about our present broken penal system. True Americans are outraged, however, we are not left with any means of correcting the wrongs. Who is going to lead in this rightful fight for equal justice? We all need someone who knows the systems well enough to be able to navigate the corrective process? You can’t start with politicians. They are always reactionary, and only when enough people get mad and get behind a cause. No, we must be organized and fight the good fight and take it to the local, state and national levels. We need a leader. Who in the legal system is willing to take on this cause on a national scale? Speak up. With each of us individually speaking on our own, we can and will be dismissed by an arrogant and deaf legal system. ORGANIZE. Let us all know. I will be waiting to hear…..

  48. Rob says:

    Are these boys going to be compensated?

  49. Willa Streater says:

    hello i hope some one can help me i have been reading these stories and i have an story how can i get help if there is someone one that can contact me please whom can hear my story and for those whom have told there stories wow these stories bring people together i hope all of us can get help everyone try and b safe

  50. Morrison Fenner says:
  51. startgame.ir says:

    Can I simply just say what a comfort to find somebody who truly understands
    what they’re talking about on the net. You actually know how to bring an issue to light and make it important.
    More and more people have to read this and understand
    this side of the story. I can’t believe you’re
    not more popular because you definitely possess the gift.

  52. Bob says:

    What????? Who will give these men their life back? Who? $ will help but it better be big bucks!

  53. gloria evans says:

    hello rickey im really blowing off by the way
    you are so calm listening to bob marley hes
    very insperational but to think all these years
    lock up knowing you was innocent how are
    you coping with all this . im from panama
    living in this country for almost 30 years
    after seeing this injustisness done to young
    black mans i think what the hell is going on
    it comes a time one feel sick tired disgusted
    of what is been done to blacks especially out
    black mans . this can happing to my love ones how do you absorve all this 39 years
    in prison for doing nothing thas a long time
    thank god you out part of your life has been
    robe .

  54. Joe Baublis says:

    Kylie, please do a follow up report on the prosecutor, the police and detectives who collected the evidence, and the judge who heard the case. Where are these people and what have they to say for themselves? Are they collecting public pensions? Are they rich?

  55. Paul Mendolia says:

    Somehow or another I hope these men can be compensated some way so that their lives have some quality for the years they have left. it is likely that they will never be able to hold any kind of a job because of their indoctrination into the penal system. They can never really recover from this but I hope they try and succeed to a point that they can live comfortably.

  56. idrive orlando says:

    Our system is ridiculous

  57. Alfredekolimu@gmail.com says:

    Thanks to all who have seen this video and have given their cmoment.

  58. Sam says:

    I hope these men can live there life to the fullest n I wish them good health God bless

  59. Margaret Soler says:

    I met someone 4 years ago and learned he was wrongly incarcerated, and has been in for over 18 years, and counting. I have created a Facebook page for him. Please take a moment to Check out his page and like and share his story. I would like to for him to have as many supporters as possible. His page is http://www.facebook.com/freeanthonyvasquez

    Thank you!

  60. Linet says:

    My brothers been in jail for 7 years and doing life for something he didn’t do. The officers of Burbank ca bribed the only witness to say my brother was the get away driver in the murder case. But that witness took a deal for drug charges and that’s why they bribed him , now he came forward in telling the truth and we can’t get the courts to open the case were waiting. My brother was only 20 and never been in trouble, worked hard with my father. The witness didn’t even point my brother out in a picture chart until the officers showed him my brothers Driver license picture and our car picture. Tell me how this is right !!! Now that video that had a pause to bribed the witness is gone !!!! That was our prove why the video stopped but the wintess came forward thank god. Now the system needs to open the case. Talk about a messed up system . The officers are suppose find the guilt not put innocent people in jail to close there case.

  61. Rotcod says:

    Glad your out, sir.

Comments are closed.