Former soldiers will not face retrial after more than 25 years i - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Former soldiers will not face retrial after more than 25 years in jail


After spending 25 years of their lives behind bars for a murder in Savannah, three former Fort Stewart soldiers are being set free. 

A retrial was dropped this week after prosecutors said there is not enough evidence to move forward. 

In 1992, Stanley Jackson was shot to death near the intersection of East Broad and 33rd Street. Three men - Mark Jones, Kenneth Gardiner, and Dominic Lucci - were tried and convicted of malice murder in the case. 

Jones, Gardiner and Lucci were sentenced to life in prison, and served more than two decades of that sentence when a non-profit group called Centurion picked up their case to prove their innocence. 

After digging into the court documents and witness testimony, there was a push for an appeal hearing that was eventually granted to overturn the ruling. 
That hearing was a turning point for the three former soldiers. 

"An individual in this case recanted and gave statements at the hearings, at the subsequent hearings to the jury trial, stating that what he said at the jury trial was not what really happened," District Attorney Meg Heap said. 

That testimony at a Habeas Corpus hearing was from a Savannah reverend who identified the former soldiers as the shooters. Last year, the case would come before the Georgia Supreme Court, who overturned the original ruling. The Supreme Court also noted significant racial overtones to the trial, and that the State did not share a piece of evidence with the defense. That evidence was a police report called the Yamacraw Report. 

The Supreme Court said in an opinion late last year "The prosecutor who conducted the trial testified that, had the Yamacraw Report been in his file, he would have either disclosed it to the defense, 'or been specific about why I was withholding it.' And, the Yamacraw Report clearly would have been helpful to the defense; it was evidence that others similar in appearance were threatening a racial attack similar to that alleged to have been suffered by Jackson, but three hours after his slaying, when the defendants were already in custody."

"The case was reversed because a piece of discovery was not given over. It wasn't reversed saying they were innocent," Heap said, referring to the Yamacraw Report. 

Heap said before the DA's Office made the decision to not pursue the retrial, they spoke to Jackson's family. 

"They were disappointed. Their loved one is deceased, but looking at it, I put my most experienced prosecutor on it and we just could not go forward," she said. 

Attorney Steve Sparger was a part of the appeal team for the three defendants and says the three men are still adjusting to life outside of prison, but they're relieved to put the case behind them. 

"Now knowing it's over, it's official, they are thrilled," Sparger said. 

Sparger acknowledged the news that prosecutors are not seeking a retrial is tough for Jackson's family. 

"Because they think the killer got away. Well, the killers got away 26 years ago in our opinion," Sparger said. 

"Time is not a friend to prosecution, in terms of evidence, witness statements, locating witnesses; if witnesses have passed, or died, that's problematic," Heap said. 

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