Man who served 39 years for crime he didn't commit speaks to UH law students

Man who served 39 years for crime he didn't commit speaks to UH law students
Ricky Jackson speaking to a class of law students (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Ricky Jackson speaking to a class of law students (Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A man who served 39 years behind bars for a murder he didn't commit spoke to law students at the University of Hawaii about his time on death row and his wrongful conviction.

Ricky Jackson was just 18 years old when he was sentenced to death in 1975 for the brutal murder of an Ohio storeowner. The only evidence was the testimony of a boy who was 12 years old at the time, and who recanted his testimony decades later, saying he was pressure by detectives into testifying on a murder he never saw.

Jackson was exonerated and walked out as a free man in November, 2014.

"I tell you it's nothing like sitting in a jail cell, and you shouldn't be there," Jackson told a packed lecture room at the William S. Richardson School of Law.

Jackson said he spends a lot of time speaking with law students, after similar students involved with the Ohio Innocence Project worked to get him released.

"Some of those people were so instrumental in making it possible for me to be here to do this interview today," he said. "I met some very young, bright and gifted people, and they believed in me."

Professors said the law students can learn from Jackson. Law professor Ken Lawson said one of the most important lessons is that they should truly care about the people they will represent in court.

"No teacher can instill that," said Lawson. "But when we show by live examples, 'Here's what happens when you don't care.' Somebody ends up in prison for 39 years.

Jackson recounted how he read books in prison as his way of "escape." He brought some students to tears when he recalled that his family never visited him or sent letters. He himself became emotional talking about the death of his mother in 2008, while he was still imprisoned.

"It's really important to bring the humane side back to the law for us," said first-year law student Jenn Eick. "We do spend a lot of time with our heads in books."

"It just really brings it home to us, and it's so inspiring, a good reminder that this is why we're doing what we're doing," said law student Justine Chmielewski.

Chmielewski is also part of the Hawaii Innocence Project, which is working on its own wrongful conviction cases. She said hearing Jackson spurs her to work harder. "What's it to us? You know, like a semester, a year for us? And for him it was 39 years. So what's a few long nights for us? Nothing."

Jackson said he's talking to students because he considers himself to be very lucky.

"I didn't care about what I'd lost or what could've been or what might've been, you know?" he said. "I had an opportunity to do something, finally."

Jackson was invited to the islands as a guest of the Hawaii State Bar Association and the Hawaii Innocence Project. He will speak at a joint fundraiser for the two organizations Friday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Pacific Club.

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