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Two wrongly convicted Ohio men taste freedom after 40 years in prison

November 22, 2014  |  Posted by: Giovanni DePhillips
Two wrongly convicted Ohio men taste freedom after 40 years  in prison Wiley Bridgeman - Image courtesy of WKYC.com

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After 39 years in prison, two Ohio men wrongly accused of murder tasted freedom for the first time in nearly four decades on Friday morning, but said they have ill will over their false imprisonment.

On Wednesday, a judge in Cleveland had dropped all charges against Ricky Jackson, 57, and Wiley Bridgeman, 60, paving the way for the two men’s release.

Ricky Jackson - Image courtesy of wkyc.com

Ricky Jackson – Image courtesy of wkyc.com

According to NBC news, Jackson was just 19 years-old when he was convicted with Bridgeman and Bridgeman’s brother, Ronnie, in connection to the 1975 shooting death of Harold Franks, a Cleveland-area money order salesman.

The men were convicted from the Testimony of a 12-year-old witness who pointed out Jackson as the triggerman, which led a jury to convict the three men.

Ronnie Bridgeman was granted parole from prison in 2003.

The witness, Edward Vernon, now 53, revoked his testimony and admitted to being coerced by detectives, according to Cuyahoga County court documents.

Vernon wrote in a 2013 affidavit that he never witnessed the murder take place, but was threatened by detectives that if he didn’t testify against Jackson, his parents would be arrested.

Vernon admitted the revelation to a pastor years after meeting with Bridgeman.

The pastor then urged him to reach out to the Innocence Project. Vernon wrote that he had “been waiting to tell the truth about this for a long time.”
“A lot of people think I should be mad,” said Jackson, but “in ’75, he was a 12-year-old-kid.” Jackson said “it took a lot of courage” for the witness to recant his statement.

The Ohio Innocence Project, which took up the case, said Jackson had been the longest-held U.S. prisoner to be exonerated.

Jackson had been originally sentenced to death, but that sentence was vacated because of a paperwork error.

The Bridgeman brothers remained on death row until Ohio declared the death penalty unconstitutional in 1978.

“One of them came within 20 days of execution before Ohio ruled the death penalty unconstitutional” said Mark Godsey, director of the Ohio Innocence Project.

“The bitterness is over with,” said Wylie Bridgeman during his first moments of freedom on Friday.

Jackson agreed. “I had plans for my life,” but “time is just something that you can’t get back so I’m not going to really cry about it,” he said.

While Ohio provides compensation for those who are wrongfully imprisoned, everyone is not guaranteed money. The Ohio Innocence Project has set up a fund for Jackson.

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