After 39 years spent in prison for a 1975 murder they didn't commit, Ricky Jackson and Wiley Bridgeman walked out of court as free men back in November
after a dramatic two-day hearing in which the state's only witness from the original trials, Eddie Vernon, admitted that he lied at the time (when he was just a 13-year-old boy) and was pressured by Cleveland police detectives to finger the men for the murder. Kwame Ajamu (formerly known as Ronnie Bridgeman) was also convicted in the case but had been out on parole since 2003.
Yesterday afternoon, Judge Sharon Gallagher officially declared the men wrongfully convicted. It's an important legal distinction that will more easily allow them to seek and acquire compensation from the state of Ohio for their years behind bars. Ohio pays out an average of $40,000 per year of wrongful imprisonment in such cases. Further civil suits tend to follow with additional damages and compensation, including loss of income for those 39 years . It's not often the state so readily admits its error, but that's the case here. Once the filings take place, it should only take three to four months for the state to pay the men.
Ajamu was influential in rekindling interest in the case, which had sat idle with no new developments for years. The trio had maintained their innocence throughout the decades and Ajamu brought evidence of that fact to Scene back in 2011
, which led to an investigation that spurred the Ohio Innocence Project into action. You can read all about the inner workings of the efforts to clear the men's names in our December feature story on the case.