MINEOLA, Long Island (WABC) -- A Long Island man convicted of murdering a teenager in 1994 has been freed from prison after he uncovered a procedural error in his case.
Joseph Jackson, 47, thanked his supporters as he walked out of court in Mineola Friday afternoon.
"I just want to be surrounded by my family right now," he said. "I haven't seen my mother in five years."
Jackson was convicted in 1997 of killing 19-year-old Steven Jason in Freeport. Prosecutors said that in March of 1994, Jackson shot Jason as the victim was leaving a party at the American Legion Hall on Sunrise Highway.
"I've been telling them I was innocent all along, but I couldn't find an ear to believe me but my attorney," Jackson said.
Nine months after the shooting, police arrested Jackson for selling crack cocaine to a confidential informant. After 34 hours in police custody, Jackson wrote a 15-page confession admitting to the shooting. He said he was beaten by police into writing the confession.
Jackson recently submitted a public records request to get more files from his case. In them, he discovered two witness statements that were never submitted to his defense attorney. One of the witnesses, an off-duty NYPD officer, said he or she saw a dark-skinned black male running from the scene. Jackson is light-skinned.
Under the law, all potentially exculpatory information related to a case must be turned over to the defense. The Nassau County District Attorney said it never had the witness statements in its files. They were recently discovered at the Freeport Police Department, having never been turned over to the district attorney.
Prosecutors said Jason's girlfriend, who was with him at the time of the shooting, identified Jackson as the shooter, as did Jackson's cousin. The cousin told police Jackson shot Jason because Jason was due to testify to a grand jury against Jackson's friend.
The judge, Hon. Teresa Corrigan, told Jackson Friday, "Only you know, sir, if you committed this crime."
Jackson's acquittal came about due to a six-month investigation by the Nassau County District Attorney's Conviction Integrity Unit.
"Above all, a prosecutor's job is to do justice and to ensure the integrity of the convictions we obtain," District Attorney Madeline Singas said. "Because of an unintentional error 23 years ago, it is our obligation to seek vacatur of this conviction. I commend our Conviction Integrity Unit for its work."
Jackson said he's planning to spend the rest of his life surrounded by his wife, five children and grandchildren.