RADFORD, Va. (WFXR) – An innocent man, who spent 39 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit is sharing his story with the future leaders of the criminal justice system in Radford.
Ricky Jackson was living as a normal teenager in Ohio when he was sentenced for the murder-robbery of a money order salesman in 1975.
At age 18, Jackson was sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit.
The sole evidence against Jackson were his co-defendants, Wiley and Ronnie Bridgeman was the false eyewitness testimony of a 13-year-old boy who would later play a key role in exonerating the three men.
Jackson spoke Wednesday night at Radford University and told his story about his near four decades on death row before being exonerated in 2014 for a crime he did not commit.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s just so hard to fathom or wrap your 18-year-old mind around something like that,” said Jackson.
“People see you as a convicted murderer. No matter what you are or what you say, that’s what society sees you as.”
He was two weeks from being executed when his sentenced was changed to life in prison. After serving 39 years, he was finally exonerated in 2014.
“You’re happy, but you’re sad because you’re wondering why it took so long,” said Jackson.
“I mean I’ve tried to cram so living into the past 5 years it’s just ridiculous.”
Now, he spends some of that time speaking to students like the Criminal Justice majors he spoke to at Radford on Wednesday night. He says he wants them to have a passion for criminal justice and stand up for what they believe is right.
“Because if I would have had somebody when this happened to me, it would’ve never happened. All it would have taken was one person to say hold up man, ‘y’all know damn well this doesn’t add up,” Jackson said.
Professor Todd Jones was responsible for getting Jackson to speak the students in his Death Penalty in America class.
“I want my students to see that journey and realize that we have made mistakes in the criminal justice system and if we don’t look backward it’s really hard for us to go forward,” said Jones.
Jones says it was important for his students to hear from someone with firsthand experience instead of just reading about it.
“Having somebody here who can tell those stories first hand, and answer those questions right then and there I think is just going to be more impactful,” Jones said.
It did make an impact, on students like Kimberly Vallejos, who wants to be a detective when she graduates.
“It was an overall really eye-opening experience. Just because hearing his story, from the person who experienced the time in prison, was genuinely an eye-opener,” Vallejos said.
Jackson was convicted with two of his childhood friends. They were also exonerated.