Exonerated former death row inmate challenges Clinton on capital punishment

Story highlights

  • Clinton defends use of capital punishment, in certain cases, on the federal level
  • Ricky Jackson spent 39 years in prison, many on death row, for a crime he did not commit

(CNN)An exonerated former death row inmate challenged Hillary Clinton on Sunday night to defend her continued support for capital punishment in some instances despite cases in which innocent people have been wrongly convicted.

"I came perilously close to my own execution," Ricky Jackson said during the CNN-TV One town hall event Sunday at Ohio State University, where he described the circumstances of his case and exoneration. He asked the Democratic front-runner, "In light of what I just shared with you and in light of the fact that there are documented cases of innocent people who have been executed in our country, I would like to know how you can still take your stance on the death penalty in light of what you know right now?"
    CNN's 2014 piece on Jackson's release
    CNN's 2014 piece on Jackson's release

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    CNN's 2014 piece on Jackson's release 02:08
    In 2014, Jackson was freed after spending nearly four decades in prison for a crime he did not commit.
    Convicted at the age of 18 for the 1975 killing of a money-order salesman in Cleveland, the Ohio man was exonerated after the prosecution's key witness, only 12 years old when he gave his damning account to police, recanted in court.
    Calling his a profoundly difficult question, Clinton first criticized the states, saying they "have proven themselves incapable of carrying out fair trials that give defendants the rights that defendants should have."
    "I've said I would breathe a sigh of relief if either the Supreme Court or the states themselves began to eliminate the death penalty."
    But the former secretary of state did not retreat from her broader position.
    "Where I end up is this, and maybe it's a distinction that is hard to support, but at this point, given the choices we face from terrorist activities primarily in our country that end up under federal jurisdiction, for very limited purposes, I think it can still be held in reserve for those."
    Clinton referenced the April 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, an act of domestic terrorism that killed 168 people, as one example of the kind of crime she considered punishable by death.
    "That is the exception that I still am struggling with, and it would only be in the federal system," she said.
    As Clinton concluded her two-and-a-half minute response, TV One's Roland Martin asked Jackson, "Is that answer satisfactory for you?"
    "Yes," he said. "Thank you very much. Thank you, Senator."