Earlier this month, the city of Cleveland agreed to pay a combined $18 million to Rickey Jackson, Wiley Bridgeman and his brother Kwame Ajamu, three men who spent decades in prison for a 1975 killing they did not commit, according to cleveland.com.
The trio reached this settlement during an 12-hour mediation held by U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, and will end the lawsuits each man filed for the time they spent behind bars.
To quote from the cleveland.com article:
The men, now in their 60s, were convicted of murder in 1975 for the shooting of money order collector Harold Franks at what was then the Fairmont Cut Rate Store on the city’s East Side. The trio maintained their innocence and were cleared in 2014.
Jackson had served 39 years in prison and was believed at the time to have served the longest amount of time behind bars of anyone wrongfully convicted of a crime.
Ajamu, with tears frequently streaming down his face, said they were accepting the settlement because “we now know that you have no other reason and no other recourse but to tell the world that you wronged three little black boys 45 years ago.”
While thanking his lawyers Terry Gilbert and Jacqueline Greene of Friedman & Gilbert, Ajamu expressed gratitude but did not downplay the long fight he, his brother and friend undertook to clear their names.
A jury in August 1975 found Jackson, Bridgeman and Ajamu, then known as Ronnie Bridgeman, guilty of murdering Franks. They were also convicted of trying to kill store owner Anna Robinson. Cuyahoga County prosecutors relied on the eyewitness testimony of young Eddie Vernon to prove their case.
A judge sentenced the men to death, though the sentences were reduced to life in 1978 when the state enacted a short-lived moratorium on the death penalty.
Nearly 40 years later, Vernon recanted his testimony and judges overturned the men’s criminal convictions. Vernon, who was 12 years old when Franks was killed, said in 2014 that city detectives pressured him to lie on the witness stand, which included threats to jail his parents, and that police manipulated him.
Bridgeman, 65, and Jackson, 63, were released in 2014 with the help of the Ohio Innocence Project, which obtained Vernon’s recantation. Ajamu, 62, was paroled in 2003. The story of the murder and the work done to secure their freedom was chronicled in a book called “Good Kids, Bad City” written by Kyle Swenson, now a reporter for The Washington Post who covered the case for the alternative weekly Cleveland Scene.