In the early morning of March 20, 1994, Steven Jason was fatally shot on a stretch of Sunrise Highway in the Long Island hamlet of Freeport.
Eyewitnesses, including an off-duty NYPD officer, called 911 and gave written statements identifying the shooter as an African-American male, approximately 5'7" with a dark complexion.
Nine months later, Joseph Jackson, a 6' tall African-American man with a light complexion and no involvement in the murder of Steven Jason, was arrested in Nassau County. As it turns out, investigators had wrongly identified Jackson as the perpetrator.
Nassau County Detective Robert Dempsey brutalized Jackson as he sat handcuffed to a chair in a frigid interrogation room, threatening his children until, after nearly forty hours, Jackson finally broke down and agreed to sign a false confession prepared by detectives. This coerced false confession was among the first in a series of constitutional violations that paved the road to Jackson's wrongful conviction.
Nassau County prosecutors now concede that key evidence was withheld from Jackson's defense team, in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963).
The existence of the two most important eyewitnesses, the off-duty NYPD officer and his friend, were withheld, along with the exonerative written statements those witnesses had provided to police on the night of the murder, which detailed the witnesses' pursuit of the actual perpetrator.
Neither the 911 call the off-duty officer placed, nor its existence were ever disclosed to Jackson's lawyers.
On March 7, 1997, a jury presented with a fabricated record including the false confession convicted Mr. Jackson. He was sentenced to 25 years to life.
20 years later, after a FOIL request revealed the withheld witness statements, Mr. Jackson contacted the Nassau County DA's Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU).
The CIU concluded that multiple Brady violations had occurred and determined that Mr. Jackson had been wrongfully convicted, casting blame on Nassau County and Freeport police.
On February 14, 2018, the Nassau County DA's office filed a motion to vacate the conviction and dismiss the indictment, indicating that it would not seek to retry Mr. Jackson.
Two days later, after being wrongfully imprisoned for over 23 years, Joseph Jackson was brought into a Mineola courtroom and unshackled. He left the courtroom free, but bears the mental scars of a lifetime behind bars, including years spent in solitary confinement.
Harvis & Fett is honored to represent Mr. Jackson in his wrongful conviction litigation.
Today, we filed a notice of claim against the County of Nassau. Read it here.