On May 19, 1975, 59-year-old Harold Franks, a money order salesman in Cleveland, Ohio, and was confronted by two men demanding his briefcase. When Franks resisted, they shot him twice in the chest, and fired a shot through the store’s glass front door. Franks died, and 58-year-old Ann Robinson, co-owner of the store, who was shot once in the neck, survived. Within a week, police obtained a statement from 12-year-old Eddie Vernon, who identified the gunman as 18-year-old Ricky Jackson. Vernon told police that 17-year-old Ronnie Bridgeman and Bridgeman’s 20-year-old brother, Wiley, who drove the getaway car, were with Jackson.
Jackson and the Bridgeman brothers—none of whom had a criminal record—were arrested on May 25, 1975. They were charged with aggravated murder, aggravated attempted murder, and aggravated robbery. No physical or forensic evidence linked any of them to the crime. The prosecution’s case rested almost solely on the testimony of Vernon, who had turned 13 by the time he testified. All three denied they were involved in the crime. All presented witnesses who said they were elsewhere at the time it occurred. All three were sentenced to death—just months after their arrest. Those sentences were later commuted to life in prison.
In 2013, Vernon recanted his testimony. “I don’t have any knowledge about what happened at the scene of the crime,” he testified. “Everything was a lie. They were all lies.”'
Jackson was finally exonerated and released in November 2014. He had served 39 years, three months, and nine days—the longest time in prison of any defendant exonerated in U.S. history. Today, Jackson lives in Cleveland, Ohio.