A former Freeport man who spent more than two decades behind bars for fatally shooting a teenager was released from prison Friday after his murder conviction was vacated due to a procedural error.
Joseph Jackson, now 47, was convicted in 1997 of second-degree murder and other crimes in the slaying of Steven Jason, 19, of Freeport.
Sentenced to 25 years to life, Jackson served 23 years and two months — maintaining his innocence throughout.
“I am just like in turmoil right now with the difference between right and wrong because of the things that were done to me, but I am not bitter,” Jackson told reporters after he walked out of Nassau County Court in Mineola a free man.
Jackson said he is looking to reconnect with his wife and their five children, and spend time with his grandchildren, said his Queens attorney, Scott Brettschneider.
The shooting happened at about 2 a.m. on March 20, 1994 when Jason and his girlfriend were leaving a party at the American Legion Hall on Sunrise Highway and Guy Lombardo Avenue in Freeport.
Months after the shooting, police arrested Jackson for selling crack cocaine to a confidential informant. While in custody, Jackson wrote a 15-page confession admitting to the shooting that he later said was coerced by police.
At Jackson’s request, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas’ office in June reviewed the case and found that exculpatory evidence — two eyewitness statements — were not turned over to the defense.
Singas’ office said these witnesses provided a description of the shooter that was “inconsistent” with Jackson’s physical appearance at the time, and gave a “different version” of what happened than the eyewitness who testified at trial.
The witnesses kept from the defense — an off-duty NYPD officer and his friend — described the shooter as a black man with dark skin, according to Brettschneider, who said Jackson is “very” light-skinned.
At trial, one prosecution witness also testified that the killer was 5-foot-7, while Jackson is 6-feet-tall, according to Brettschneider.
Freeport Village police interviewed the off-duty officer and his companion, but their statements were never given to Brettschneider, the trial attorney. He said the statements were found in the police department’s files, but not in the district attorney’s case file.
Under the Brady rule, prosecutors are generally required to turn over all evidence that could be favorable to the defense.
Singas said Friday it was an “unintentional” error, and her office will not prosecute Jackson.
“Because prosecutors now lack sufficient evidence to prove Jackson’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, he will not be retried and the investigation will be closed,” Singas said in a news release.