CLEVELAND – There is a possibility that three men, two brothers and their best friend, could be reunited nearly 40 years after they were sentenced to death for a 1975 slaying they say they did not commit.
Cuyahoga County prosecutors on Thursday filed a motion to dismiss all charges against Ricky Jackson, 57, Wiley Bridgeman, 60, and Bridgeman's brother, Ronnie, 57, who is now known as Kwame Ajamu.
The dismissals came after the key witness against the men at trial, a 13-year-old boy, recanted last year and said Cleveland police detectives coerced him into testifying that the three killed businessman Harry Franks the afternoon of May 19, 1975.
Jackson is expected to be freed on Friday. If transportation can be arranged from a prison in northwest Ohio, Wiley Bridgeman could be freed as well. Ajamu was released from prison in January 2003.
Ajamu said in an interview Thursday that the prospect of the three being together again is "mind boggling." Ajamu spent his 18th birthday on death row and was in prison when his mother, a brother and a sister died.
"The idea that my brother — both of those guys are my brothers — are getting out? I don't even care about me," Ajamu said.
The Bridgemans' death sentences were commuted to life in prison after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed capital punishment in 1978. Jackson's sentence was commuted in 1977 on a technicality — a mistake in jury instructions.
The three-year process that led to their exonerations began with a story published in Scene Magazine in 2011 that detailed flaws in the case, including Eddie Vernon's questionable testimony. Vernon, now 52, did not recant until a minister visited him at a hospital in 2013. Vernon broke down during a court hearing for Jackson on Tuesday as he described the threats by detectives and the burden of guilt he had carried for so long.
The Ohio Innocence Project took up Jackson's cause after the Scene article even though there was no DNA evidence, the hallmark of Innocence Project cases. A Cleveland attorney represented Bridgeman and Ajamu.
Joe Frolik, a spokesman for county prosecutor Tim McGinty, declined to comment on Thursday except to reiterate a statement McGinty made Tuesday: "The state concedes the obvious."