Three Cleveland men, who were wrongfully convicted for a 1975 murder of a man during robbery and spent decades in prison, have reached an $18 million settlement with the city. This is the largest ever police misconduct settlement in the state of Ohio.
According to Cleveland.com, Rickey Jackson, 63, Wiley Bridgeman, 65, and his brother, 62-year-old Kwame Ajamu, formerly known as Ronnie Bridgeman, received death sentences – which was later reduced to life in 1978 – for the murder of Harold Franks after a then 12-year-old boy, Eddie Vernon, was coerced to testify against them.
Vernon, recanted his testimony after 40 years in 2014, claiming detectives manipulated and forced him to lie against the trio, threatening to jail his parents if he failed to follow their orders. Their convictions were subsequently overturned by judges, with Bridgeman and Jackson, being exonerated the same year. Ajamu was released on parole in 2003.
“For 45 years, our clients never gave up hope that someday their nightmare would be over,” attorney, Terry Gilbert, said after the settlement was reached, 19News reports. “That time has come with this final resolution providing some measure of justice and closure. But the physical and emotional trauma our clients were forced to endure is an example of the deep flaws of a racist criminal legal system focused on results rather than truth and justice.”
Reacting to the settlement via a video conference on Friday, a tearful Ajamu said they accepted it 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,” Cleveland.com further reports.
“Money cannot buy freedom and money certainly does not make innocence,” he added.
Under the terms of the settlement, Jackson, who spent 39 years behind bars for the conviction, will receive $7.2 million, with the rest being split between Bridgeman and Ajamu.
“What is 39 years of your life worth?” Jackson’s lawyer, Elizabeth Wang said. “Nobody can put a number on that. No amount of money that can compensate them for what they went through.”