The heartbreaking story of the man who asked Hillary Clinton a 'profoundly difficult question'

An innocent man who spent 39 years in prison asked Hillary Clinton a pointed question about the death penalty at CNN’s Town Hall in Ohio on Sunday night.

The man, Ricky Jackson, was convicted along with his friends, Ronnie and Wiley Bridgeman, of murdering Harold Franks in Cleveland, Ohio in 1975.

Jackson directly confronted Clinton about her stance on capital punishment. Clinton has historically been in favour of the death penalty with some limitations.

“I would like to know how can you still take your stance on the death penalty, in light of what you know right now?” Jackson asked.

Clinton called his inquiry “a profoundly difficult question.”

Jackson entered prison as an 18-year-old and was released in 2014 at age 57. He was initially sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1977, just two months shy of his execution date. He was saved by a mistake the court made filling out his paperwork, according to CNN.

Jackson holds the tragic distinction of spending the longest time ever incarcerated on a wrongful conviction, according to The Cleveland Plain Dealer. He was shifted around from prison to prison, with his security level reduced each time, reports The Christian Science Monitor.

The state’s key witness in the case, Eddie Vernon, then a 12-year-old boy, told the court he saw Jackson and the Bridgeman brothers attack Franks outside a Cut-Rate store, according to a 2011 investigation by the Cleveland Scene magazine. Vernon also claimed Jackson fired the fatal shots and left Franks dying on the street.

No physical evidence, however, linked either Jackson or the Bridgeman brothers to the crime, reported the Scene.

Spurred by the Scene’s investigation, the Ohio Innocence Project took on Jackson’s case. Vernon eventually recanted his testimony and admitted he was manipulated by the detectives and state prosecutors.

“All the information was fed to me,” Vernon told the court, per the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Everything was a lie, they were all lies.”

The judge who dismissed Jackson’s case told him directly that, “life is filled with small victories, and this is a big one,” according to CBS News.

Jackson Hillary Clinton CNN Town hallScreenshotJackson asks Clinton about her stance on the death penalty.

“I’m glad to be out,” Jackson told The Cleveland Plain Dealer in November, 2014 after he was released. “It has been an emotional roller coaster. The English language doesn’t have the words to express how I’m feeling right now.”

While in prion, Jackson earned a degree in horticulture and helped referee basketball games among the prisoners, according to The Christian Science Monitor.

As for Vernon, the man whose testimony was used, Jackson harbours no ill will.

“A lot of people think I should be mad,” Jackson told assembled reports after he was released from prison, per NBC News. “It took a lot of courage to do what he did.”

In 2015, Jackson was awarded more than $1 million for the 39 years he spent behind bars. He now lives in a small apartment in Cleveland.

“I live a simple, boring life,” he told The Christian Science Monitor in 2015. “And that’s how I want it. I’m never going to be sad or in fear again.”

Wiley Bridgeman was also released from prison in 2014. His brother, who now goes by the name Kwame Ajamu, was released in 2003. Both brothers were exonerated by the state of Ohio as well.

In Clinton’s response to Jackson’s question at the CNN Town Hall, she indicated that she was still partially in favour of the death penalty in “limited and rare” cases.

“I would breathe a sigh of relief if either the Supreme Court or the states themselves began to eliminate the death penalty,” Clinton said. “At this point, given the challenges we face from terrorist activities in our country that primarily end up under federal jurisdiction for very limited purposes, I think it can still be held in reserve for those.”

Jackson wrote an op-ed for CNN on Monday, saying that he was “satisfied,” with Clinton’s answer to his question, but he still does not agree that the death penalty should be used under any circumstance.

“It is time that no candidate — whether Democrat or Republican — should be taken seriously if he or she supports capital punishment,” writes Jackson, citing statistics that the death penalty does little to deter crime.

He’s still an “undecided,” voter, and he’s looking forward to voting in his first presidential election as a free man.

Read Jackson’s piece on CNN here »

NOW WATCH: Watch a former death row inmate who spent 39 years in prison question Clinton on the death penalty

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