Exonerated Brothers Awarded Compensation

Apr 12, 2015 - by Denise Noe

Two exonerated brothers falsely convicted for a 1975 murder in Ohio were awarded over $1.6 million from the Ohio Court of Claims on Friday, April 10, 2015. 

Wiley Bridgeman, 60, and Ronnie Bridgeman, 57 -- now known as Kwame Ajamu -- were both compensated for the wrongful imprisonment they suffered together.

Four decades ago, along with their friend Ricky Jackson, the Bridgeman brothers had been sent to death row after all three were convicted of the aggravated murder of Harry Franks. While awaiting execution, their death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment.

The trio was exonerated in 2014 when chief prosecution witness Eddie Vernon, a 13-year-old boy when he testified against them, recanted his testimony.

In March 2015, a $1-million compensation judgment had been awarded to Jackson, 58.

Terry Gilbert and David Mills are lawyers for Bridgeman and Ajamu. After the awards were issued the exonerated brothers, Gilbert remarked, “They deserve a lot more, but the state has limits on what they pay. But, obviously, they are grateful to have some resources to start their lives again.

Ajamu was paroled in 2003 after serving twenty-seven years. Wiley Bridgeman and Jackson were released in November 2014 after spending almost forty years in prison. They tasted freedom only days after Eddie Vernon testified before a hearing that he had lied in his original account.

After Vernon recanted, prosecutor Timothy McGinty admitted a case no longer existed.

Jackson, 57 at the time of his release, had been imprisoned since he was 18. At winning freedom, an overjoyed Jackson exclaimed, “Finally! Finally! It’s extraordinary. I’m glad to be out. . . . The English language doesn’t have the words to express how I’m feeling right now.”

Wiley Bridgeman was also all smiles as he walked out of jail to embrace his waiting brother, Ajamu. Wiley said, “It’s amazing. The bitterness is over with. I carried that too long.” Ajamu said, “I can die tomorrow, and I would be fine with it because those boys made it through the fire.”

The case began in 1975 when Harold Franks was walking to a store. On his way, he was attacked. Assailants beat Franks, threw acid in his face, and shot him twice. The shooter also fired a shot that hit Anna Robinson, wife of the store’s owner. The attackers robbed Franks of his briefcase and ran to a waiting car.

No physical evidence linked the three convicted men to the crime. The adult Vernon said that, as a child, he wanted to help police. A friend of Vernon’s suggested the three might be involved, so the child told cops he saw them commit the crime. The truth was that he was never even close to the scene of the crime as the school bus he rode never passed near it.

Vernon admitted that, after he told police the names of those he accused and claimed to have witnessed the murder, the police fed him additional information. In 2013, Vernon confided his false testimony to his pastor. Then Vernon went public with his recantation.

Jackson said he didn’t hold a grudge against his accuser. “He is a grown man today,” Jackson noted. “He was a child back then.”

DENISE NOE

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