Nearly 40 years after conviction, third Cleveland man cleared of murder

A Cleveland judge on Tuesday dropped all charges against the last of three men to be exonerated for a 1975 murder after the key witness in the case recanted his testimony.

Kwame Ajamu, 56, who spent 27 years in prison for the robbery and murder of Harold Franks, told reporters after his court hearing that he had no bitter feelings and is overwhelmed with joy.

“I’m so happy today that this battle had come to an end,” said Ajamu, formerly known as Ronnie Bridgeman, as he wept and thanked his attorneys and wife before hugging the judge and the prosecutor.

Ajamu was originally sentenced to death for Franks’ murder. His death sentence was commuted and he was released from prison in 2003.

Ajamu’s brother, Wylie Bridgeman, 60, and co-defendant Ricky Jackson, 57, were both released from prison Nov. 21 after Edward Vernon, 52, who was 12 the time of the crime, recanted at a hearing earlier in the month.

The Ohio Innocence Project asked for a new trial last March after Vernon told a pastor he was on a school bus at the time of the murder and never saw the attack.

After spending 39 years in jail, Jackson was the longest-held U.S. prisoner to be exonerated, according to the Ohio Innocence Project and the National Registry of Exonerations.

Wylie Bridgeman was released in 2002 but was sent back to prison months later on a probation violation.

Defense attorney Terry Gilbert said that prosecutors took a courageous stand not to fight the dismissal of charges.

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