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Charles Jackson

Other Cuyahoga County Exonerations
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In the early morning hours of April 7, 1991, Charlie “Charlie Dog” Davis came to an apartment complex at 13902 Othello Avenue in East Cleveland, Ohio. He was drunk and irate. He broke some windows and fired a rifle. He also got into an argument with Omelia Tucker, a building resident and rival drug dealer.

Davis, whose hand was injured either by punching out windows or from being shot by Tucker, finally left, yelling at Tucker, “You shot me. I’ll be back.”

About 45 minutes later, two men arrived. Two shots were fired and the men left, stopping only to fire a gun into one of the tires of Tucker’s vehicle parked in front of the building. When neighbors came out, they found 29-year-old Joe Travis dead from a single gunshot wound to the head.

Police received information that 23-year-old Ronald Lacey, a resident of the building, had been present at the time of the shooting.

On April 26, detectives arrested Lacey on a charge of loitering for drug activity. During questioning, he said that he was in a hallway with Travis when a man he knew only as “Sweetman” pointed a gun at him and cocked it. Lacey said as the gun went off, he dropped to the floor and played dead. Lacey claimed the shot fired at his head ricocheted off a piece of metal on his cap.

Lacey said that the gunman had been a regular in the neighborhood, and that he drove a 1978 or 1979 brown or maroon Monte Carlo with chrome wheels and low rider tires. Detectives recalled that they had previously made a traffic stop of a car fitting that description because they suspected the driver was carrying drugs. They found no drugs, but arrested the driver for a traffic violation and took a photograph of him. They checked their arrest log and found the driver was 27-year-old Charles Jackson.

The officers printed a picture of Jackson and showed it to Lacey, who said, “That’s definitely him. You don’t forget someone that tries to kill you.”

On May 8, 1991, police arrested Jackson. He was charged with aggravated murder with a firearm specification and attempted murder with a firearm specification.

He went to trial in December 1991 in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. Lacey identified Jackson as the gunman and said he was accompanied by Don Davis, brother of Charlie Dog Davis. Lacey testified that as Davis and Jackson made their way down the hallway, he heard Jackson say, “You know me…I’ll shoot up some shit.”

Lacey described how Jackson put a gun to the back of his head and cocked it, and he dropped down just as the shot was fired, damaging his cap. He said while he was on the floor pretending to be dead, he saw Jackson shoot Travis in the head. Lacey said he saw Jackson run from the building and shoot out one of the tires on Tucker’s truck, setting off the vehicle’s alarm.

Lacey admitted that he was selling drugs in the hallway that night as was Travis. During cross-examination, Lacey was shown a photograph of James Morris, a man who closely resembled Jackson. Lacey incorrectly identified the photograph as Jackson, even though Jackson was sitting at the defense table.

Tucker testified that she was inside her apartment when she heard the shots. When she heard her truck alarm go off, she looked out the window and saw the gunman. She identified Jackson as the gunman, saying that his face was illuminated by a light near the truck and that he had a handgun in his right hand. Tucker testified that she identified Jackson when police arrived.

The defense presented evidence that on the evening of April 6, 1991, several hours before the shooting, Jackson and his girlfriend, Nenita Readus, went to a birthday party around 11:30 p.m. and stayed until 2:30 or 3 a.m. Then they went home and remained there until they got up at about 1 p.m., several hours after the shooting.

On December 16, 1991, the jury convicted Jackson of aggravated murder and attempted murder with the two firearm specifications. He was sentenced to 20 years to life on the murder charge, seven to 25 years on the attempted murder charge, and three years on the firearm specification—all to be served consecutively.

His convictions were upheld on appeal in 1993. Over the next 20 years, several post-conviction motions to vacate his convictions were dismissed.

On February 4, 2016, the Ohio Innocence Project began seeking police reports from the Cleveland Police Department. In May 2017, the reports were finally turned over and included police supplementary reports that had never been disclosed to the defense.

Contrary to her testimony, the reports showed that Tucker told police that she could not identify the gunman. She said she looked out her window and saw a man wearing a bulky jacket get into the rear passenger seat of a gray car that drove off. She said the man had his back to her and she did not see his face. In a second interview on May 8, 1991, the day Jackson was arrested, Tucker repeated that she could not identify the gunman.

The reports also stated that in Lacey’s initial interview with detectives, he said he saw Jackson put the gun to Travis’s forehead and pull the trigger. However, the autopsy report said that Travis was shot in the side of the head.

The reports also included an interview with Bobby Rodgers, a resident of the apartment building across the street from where the shooting occurred. Rodgers said that Charlie Dog Davis’s nephew killed Travis, and that he was accompanied by Charlie’s brother “because Charles got shot during the first exchange.” James Morris, the man in the photograph presented at trial who closely resembled Jackson, was the nephew of Charlie Dog Davis and Don Davis.

Subsequently, an investigator working for Jackson’s post-conviction defense team obtained a sworn affidavit from Thomas Salvano, who was at the Othello apartment building to buy crack cocaine from Tucker at the time of the shooting. Salvano said he was on his way up the stairs when he ran into Charlie Dog Davis, who showed Salvano a pistol and tried to sell him some crack cocaine.

Salvano said he declined because of the poor quality of Davis’s cocaine and continued up to Tucker’s apartment where he purchased crack from her. While standing in Tucker’s doorway, Charlie Dog began firing his gun. Police were called and Salvano went into Lacey’s mother’s apartment, where he found Lacey and Travis. Salvano said they smoked crack until the police left. Lacey and Travis then left the apartment to sell crack.

Salvano said he heard two gunshots and looked out the peephole of the apartment door. He saw two men in winter coats standing over Lacey and Travis, who were lying on the floor. After the men left, Salvano said he stole a baggie of crack that was in the now-dead Travis’s mouth and left.

Two or three months later, Salvano said he was in the Cuyahoga County jail on unrelated charges when two Cleveland Police detectives visited him. They showed him a photograph of Jackson and said he needed to say Jackson was the gunman to get his own case to go away. Salvano said he refused to identify Jackson, whom he knew as “Sweetie D,” because he knew Jackson was not there.

In 2018, Ohio Innocence Project lawyers Mallorie Thomas and Donald Caster filed a petition for post-conviction relief contending that the failure of the prosecution to disclose the police reports that undercut or impeached the testimony of Lacey and Tucker had resulted in a constitutionally unfair trial for Jackson. Moreover, the petition cited the evidence that Rodgers and Salvano pointed to other suspects that inexplicably were never investigated.

In September 2018, Common Pleas Judge Robert McClelland ordered a hearing to be held on Jackson’s motions. In preparation for that hearing, Jackson’s lawyers discovered that Omelia Tucker had lied about her criminal record when she testified at Jackson’s trial. On the stand, Tucker, when questioned by the prosecution, denied having any state or federal charges. However, just six months earlier, she had pled guilty to a third-degree felony in Cuyahoga County. The prosecution had failed to disclose Tucker’s criminal history and allowed Tucker to lie under oath. Upon learning this new information, the Ohio Innocence Project then filed an amended post-conviction motion addressing the non-disclosure of Tucker’s criminal history, as well as the use of her perjured testimony.

On November 27, 2018, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office agreed that Jackson’s convictions should be set aside. Judge McClelland signed an order vacating the convictions and Jackson was released pending a retrial.

On August 29, 2019, the prosecution dismissed the charges.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 9/4/2019
State:Ohio
County:Cuyahoga
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Attempted Murder
Reported Crime Date:1991
Convicted:1991
Exonerated:2019
Sentence:30 to life
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:27
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No