Tara Talbot Caught the chat at the tail end. Thank you for hosting it, for answering such deep questions, and for recording such an important story. It’s coverage like this that makes The Christian Science Monitor unique in the world of news media – providing insights into how individuals overcome such terrible injustice, as well as shining a bright light on areas in our society that need improvement. Many thanks to you all!
Special chat on Facebook Tuesday, April 14, at 1 p.m. EST with reporter Jacob Baynham.
40 YEARS LATER
First joint interview: Ohio men wrongfully convicted of 1975 murder are finally free
After 39 years in prison, an epic tale of innocence found and bitterness lost
Ricky Jackson was the longest-serving innocent man in US history. Now, he’s free of prison – and resentment.
If Jackson is preoccupied, he can be forgiven. He’s had a lot on his mind since he left prison. He’s been thinking about what to do with the remainder of his life. About what to make of the lie that landed him on death row at age 18, making him the longest-serving wrongfully convicted person in American history. It’s a lie that has tested the limits of human forgiveness and resilience. A lie that forced him to not let his circumstances, however tragic, define who he is.
“I [Veron] feel so bad about how I did those guys,” he says. “They said they forgave me, but how can they forgive me for taking away all those years?”
The past few months have been a season of redemption for Vernon, a spring of forgiveness, but he’s still conflicted about his role in jailing three innocent men for the majority of their lives. The way he sees it, he told a lie, but the police and justice system are guilty, too.
When he returned to Cleveland, Vernon floundered. “The more I tried to get ahead, the more I fell back down,” he says. He started drinking and developed a crack addiction that he battled for 17 years. He had a stroke. His kidneys were failing, and his blood pressure spiked. He spent time in prison.
When he got out, Christianity saved him. He found peace in the church, although he was terrified by the Ninth Commandment – Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. It seemed written for him. But Vernon found a God who offered forgiveness. And two months ago, in this very church, he met and hugged Jackson, who forgave him, too. Now Vernon is trying to forgive himself.
And now, 40 years later, they’re both finally free.