Eric Jackson-Knight

In August 1978, six firefighters were killed while attempting to extinguish a fire at a supermarket in Brooklyn, New York.  Investigators determined that the fire was arson.  Based on a tip, police arrested Eric Jackson-Knight. 
 
According to police, Jackson-Knight confessed that he, along with two accomplices,  had been paid to set the fire, although police arrested no one other than Jackson-Knight.  Jackson-Knight claimed that he had confessed only to participating in a different arson, which occurred two years before the Brooklyn fire and in which no one was hurt.  At trial, a fellow inmate testified that Jackson-Knight had confessed to setting the supermarket fire while they were both at Riker’s Island. In December 1980, a jury convicted Jackson-Knight of murder and arson, and he was sentenced to 25-years-to-life. 
 
After the conviction, Jackson-Knight’s case was reviewed in preparation for a civil suit.  In the process, many people became convinced that Jackson-Knight was innocent, including city officials, contractors who were working to expand the supermarket, and the attorney who represented the firefighters’ families in a successful civil suit against the store.  The attorney convinced the judge who presided over Jackson-Knight’s trial to reopen the case.  
 
In 1988, the judge vacated Jackson-Knight’s conviction and ordered a new trial after finding that prosecutors improperly withheld information from the defense, including a statement from a police arson investigator that the fire was not arson, but electrical. Prosecutors also withheld a statement by a police detective saying that he believed the fire department had planted evidence of arson, a memo showing that the fire marshal had given false testimony at trial about some aspects of the investigation, a memo showing that the inmate who testified against Jackson-Knight gave inconsistent statements to the police, and evidence that the fire started inside the store, not on the roof as Jackson-Knight said in his supposed “confession.”  Jackson-Knight was released, but returned to prison several times for unrelated charges while awaiting retrial.  He was finally retried in August 1994.  At retrial, Jackson-Knight’s attorney argued again that his confession was for a different arson and that the supermarket fire was not arson, but an electrical fire.  The jury acquitted Jackson-Knight of all charges.
 
- Stephanie Denzel
 

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State:New York
County:Kings
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Arson
Reported Crime Date:1978
Convicted:1980
Exonerated:1994
Sentence:25 to Life
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age:21
Contributing Factors:False Confession, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No