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Be Like Ricky O

n May 19, 2015, a fortunate few of us attended the DBA Carl D. Kessler Inn of Court at Sinclair Community College. It was truly one of the most inspiring evenings of my legal career. At the Inn that evening, Mark Godsey, the Director of University of Cincinnati’s Ohio Innocence Project (“OIP”), spoke and explained the mission of the organization. OIP identifies inmates across the state who are actually innocent of the crimes they were convicted of committing. Often this involves DNA testing, but can also include other types of new evidence or testimony. The OIP not only investigates and uncovers this new evidence, but then takes the case to court attempting prove the inmate’s innocence and obtain his or her release from prison. There are multiple Innocence Projects across the country that have obtained the release of approximately 250 wrongfully convicted individuals. OIP alone is responsible for securing freedom for 23 people so far. One such individual accompanied Mark Godsey to the DBA Inn of Court last May. Ricky Jackson, along with two of his friends, had been wrongly convicted of murder in Cleveland in 1975 and sentenced to death by electrocution. Ricky was 18 years old. The three were spared from death by technicalities and their sentences were commuted to life in prison. The primary witness at the trial in 1975 was a 12-year-old boy who testified that he witnessed the three commit the murder. In 2014, this 12-year-old boy, now 51, took the stand and testified that the police threatened to send his parents to prison if he did not tell this lie on the stand. Through the work of attorney Brian Howe and other volunteers with the Ohio Innocence Project in bringing this information to the court, a Cleveland judge dismissed the case against Ricky and his co-defendants and they were all exonerated. Ricky was released from prison after serving 39 years. Ricky holds the dubious distinction of being the longest serving prisoner to be exonerated and released. Ricky is incredibly articulate, personable, self-deprecating, witty and had that room full of lawyers silent, at rapt attention. He told us his story about being arrested, being beaten by the police officers, and sitting in the courtroom while this boy sat on the stand and testified that he witnessed Ricky and his friends commit the murder when it


Dayton Bar Briefs February 2016

By Susan D. Solle Esq. Dinsmore & Shohl, LLP DBA First Vice President was absolutely untrue. He then told us about going to prison at 18 years old when he was just a kid himself, and some of his experiences there. He said he spent a lot of his time reading books and has joked that he wants someone to explain to him the meaning of Catcher in the Rye. And then, of course, he told us about how the OIP believed in him, and saved his life. So, how would any of us feel if we were convicted of a crime we did not commit and spent 39 years in prison? Angry? Bitter? Hungry for revenge? Ricky Jackson is……happy. One lie in 1975 caused Ricky to lose 39 years of his life in prison, some of that on death row. He chose to forgive that witness. Immediately. He chose to be grateful. Ricky Jackson chose to be happy. Life can be difficult. Things don’t always go our way; people in our life don’t always act the way we believe they should. As we all know, lawyers’ lives in particular can be brutal. The stress created by unreasonable clients, difficult opposing counsel, and judges who may not decide cases the way we believe they should (except in Montgomery County, of course), can often be overwhelming. It would be easy to decide to be unhappy, bitter, angry. I always thought the phrase “happiness is a choice” was just a cliché. And then I met Ricky. So, the next time I have a day where I oversleep, my kids are being obstinate, someone cuts me off in traffic and I spill my coffee on my suit, I am late to court and forget my file, the court denies my motion and I return to the office to find out my paralegal quit, I hopefully will remember that it could be worse. It could be a lot worse. Choose to be happy. If Ricky can, we can too. For more information on the Ohio Innocence Project, visit the website at or the Facebook page at Photo cred:


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Dayton Bar Briefs - February 2016  

Dayton Bar Briefs - February 2016