By Debbie Gregory.
More than 25 years after being locked away for a killing their lawyers say they didn’t commit, three former U.S. Army soldiers convicted of a racially motivated murder have been set free on bail.
Mark Jason Jones, Kenneth Eric Gardiner, and Dominic Brian Lucci will be spending the holidays with their families for the first time in over a quarter of a century.
The men were stationed at Fort Stewart in Georgia. The night before Jones was set to get married, Stanley Jackson was fatally shot
The victim was African American. The three Caucasian soldiers were arrested hours after Jackson’s murder and sentenced to life in prison later that year. Jones was 20, Gardiner was 21 and Lucci was 22 when they were arrested.
Now in their mid- to late 40s, they have spent more than half their lives in jail.
The Georgia Supreme Court last month ruled that state prosecutors improperly withheld evidence that would have helped their defense, and the men were entitled to a new trial. Supporters who have long pointed to a lack of evidence and conflicting witness testimonies as proof that Jones, Gardiner, and Brian were victims of a miscarriage of justice.
Prosecutors haven’t said yet whether they’ll retry the case, but a judge in Savannah on Wednesday set bail at $30,000 apiece. The three men were released with the help of Centurion Ministries, which works to free innocent people. Centurion Ministries took up their case in 2009.
Jackson was gunned down on a street corner in a high-crime neighborhood of Savannah at around 10 p.m. on Jan. 31, 1992.
Eyewitness James White, who testified at trial, later admitted that he hadn’t gotten a good look at the shooters and was pressured to identify the soldiers at trial.