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Joseph Jackson

Other Conviction Integrity Unit Exonerations
At about 2 a.m. on March 20, 1994, 19-year-old Steven Jason walked a friend, Skwanitra Witherspoon, to her car as she was leaving Jason’s birthday party at the American Legion Hall on Sunrise Avenue and Guy Lombardo Avenue in Freeport, New York. In the parking lot, a man approached, shot Jason several times, and fled.

Witherspoon described the shooter as a light-skinned black man, in his early 20s, and wearing a baseball hat and a three-quarter length light-blue jacket. She did not estimate his height that night, although she later said the man was 5 feet 7 inches to 5 feet 8 inches tall.

The crime went unsolved until December 17, 1994, when Nassau County police detectives arrested 24-year-old Joseph Jackson on a warrant for a sale of crack cocaine that occurred about two weeks before Jason’s murder. They also wanted to question him about Jason’s murder because Jackson’s cousin, Peddie Jenkins, had told police that he was with Jackson and saw him shoot Jason.

Nearly 40 hours later, after being interrogated by Nassau County homicide detective Robert Dempsey - who was responsible for the false confessions of John Restivo, Dennis Halstead and John Kogut - Jackson signed a confession that said he shot Jason. The confession, which the police had written, said that Jackson shot Jason to keep him from telling the grand jury that in December 1993, a man named Tony Jackson—who was Joseph Jackson’s friend—had shot and wounded Jason.

In the confession, Jackson said that he shot Jason and then fled in a car waiting in the parking lot of a nearby closed Blimpie restaurant.

Despite the confession, Jackson was not charged with the murder until March 7, 1995. He had remained in custody on the narcotics charge during that time.

Prior to trial, Jackson’s defense lawyer was given a Freeport Police Department incident report. The report said that two men were driving by the scene at the time of the crime and witnessed the shooting—Maurice Larrea, an off-duty New York City police officer and his friend, Glenn Montes. Their phone numbers, along with Montes’s address, were also provided.

The report said that Montes saw “the subject” shoot the deceased. After the shooting, Larrea chased a black man and canvassed the area. The report also noted that both witnesses went to the police station to give statements. Jackson’s attorney, however, never asked for the reports and the prosecution never turned them over.

Jackson went to trial in March 1997 in Nassau County Supreme Court. Witherspoon testified that she had identified Jackson in a lineup. She also identified him in court as the gunman, although Jackson was 6 feet tall—at least four inches taller than her highest estimate of the gunman’s height.

Peddie Jenkins testified that he saw Jackson shoot Jason to prevent him from testifying against Jackson’s close friend, Tony Jackson. The shooting occurred two days before Jason was scheduled to testify before the grand jury. Jenkins said he told Jackson when Jason would be leaving the party at the American Legion Hall. Jenkins later pled guilty to second-degree criminal facilitation and was sentenced to three to six years in prison.

The primary evidence against Jackson was his confession, which he contended was the result of being beaten by the detectives during the 34 hours he was in custody before he signed it. The detectives denied physically abusing Jackson.

On March 7, 1997, the jury convicted Jackson of second-degree murder, second-degree intimidating a witness, and hindering a prosecution. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

In 2002, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court upheld his convictions. In 2003, Jackson, acting without a lawyer, filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus. That petition was denied in 2004.

In 2007, Jackson filed a public records request with the Freeport police department for the reports in his case. He was sent copies of Larrea’s and Montes’s reports that contradicted the facts in Jackson’s confession as well as Witherspoon’s testimony at his trial.

Montes’s report said he saw two black men chase Jason into the parking lot of the Blimpie restaurant. Montes said that as Jason neared the sidewalk, he “ducked” or “dove” to the ground and one of the men chasing him fired a gun two or three times. Montes said the second man was six to seven feet behind the shooter in the middle of the parking lot.

Montes said he drove to the next block, and Officer Larrea got out to call 911 from a phone booth. Montes said he drove back to the scene, and Larrea ran back on foot. The report of the 911 call also had never been disclosed to Jackson’s defense attorney.

In his statement, Larrea said that he saw a black man in his 20s running toward him wearing a black leather jacket over a dark hooded sweatshirt. Larrea drew his revolver and ordered the man to stop. The man stopped briefly, then took off running across Sunrise Highway into another parking lot. Larrea said he yelled to Montes, “That’s him, that’s the guy.”

As Larrea chased him on foot, Montes pursued him in his car, but the man escaped. Montes described the male as being in his early 20s, 5 feet 9 inches to 5 feet 10 inches tall, with a medium build and a dark brown face.

Larrea said that after he and Montes lost sight of the man they believed was the gunman, they returned to the scene of the shooting where they spoke to Freeport police officers.

For nearly a decade, Jackson wrote to defense attorneys seeking help in re-investigating his case, but got no response. In June 2017, Jackson's trial attorney, Scott Brettschneider, contacted the Nassau County conviction integrity unit requesting that the case be re-examined, citing Larrea’s and Montes’s reports and claiming that the failure to disclose them before trial violated his constitutional right to a fair trial.

Sheryl Anania, Nassau County executive assistant district attorney and head of the prosecution’s conviction integrity unit, began re-investigating the case. The prosecution file did not contain the reports, and the prosecutor who handled Jackson’s trial reported that he had never seen them.

Copies of the reports were located in the files of the Freeport police department and the Nassau County police department. Anania interviewed Larrea and Montes. Both said they were never contacted to be witnesses at the trial.

On February 9, 2018, Anania filed a motion to vacate Jackson’s conviction because the reports from Larrea and Montes should have been disclosed to his defense attorney prior to trial. On February 16, 2018, the motion was granted, the prosecution then dismissed the charges, and Jackson was released.

Subsequently, Jackson filed a compensation claim with the New York Court of Claims. In December 2018, attorney Gabriel Harvis filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the village of Freeport and Nassau County and several police officers.

His claim in the New York Court of Claims was denied in December 2022.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/17/2018
Last Updated: 10/11/2023
State:New York
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Other Violent Felony, Other Nonviolent Felony
Reported Crime Date:1994
Sentence:25 to life
Age at the date of reported crime:24
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No