Three former death row inmates will soon walk free together after serving 39 years behind bars because the only witness against them has recanted the damning testimony he gave when he was 13-years-old. A man convicted with his brother and childhood friend of killing a businessman in 1975 said Thursday he’s sorry his mother isn’t alive to see the three inmates released from prison.
Kwame Ajamu, his brother and their friend, Ricky Jackson, had been convicted at separate trials for the shooting death of a businessman outside a corner store in Cleveland, Ohio. They were teenagers when judges sentenced them to death row. Ajamu – then known as Ronnie Bridgeman – was 17, Jackson was 19 and Wiley Bridgeman was 20.
On Tuesday, Ajamu got a call from Jackson from a Cleveland courtroom where Eddie Vernon, who was a teenager when he testified at the men’s trials, had recanted his testimony close to 40 years later.
“It just blew my mind!” Ajamu said.
Cuyahoga County prosecutors filed a motion Thursday to dismiss charges against the three men. With Vernon’s testimony under doubt, prosecutors conceded Tuesday that they no longer had a case.
Ajamu got out of prison in January 2003. Jackson was at a prison camp but is now in county jail and Wiley Bridgeman is at a northwest Ohio prison. If transportation issues are figured out and Bridgeman is brought to Cleveland, all three could be reunited Friday. Ajamu said that prospect is “mind boggling”.
Both brothers’ sentences were commuted to life in prison after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in 1978. Jackson’s sentence was commuted to life earlier due to an error in the jury instructions. Bridgeman was released from prison in 2002 but was later sent back for violating parole.
“These last few months, I’ve been 17 all over again,” Ajamu said. “I had to relive in my mind and heart my mother walking down the street the last few days of her life with that shame. She knew we didn’t do it, but the world didn’t.”
3 Former Death Row Inmates to Be Freed For 1975 Murder