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Kwame Ajamu

State: Ohio

Convicted: 1975

Exonerated: 2014

Race: Black

DNA used in exoneration? No

 

Reasons for wrongful conviction:

False eyewitness testimony

Police  Misconduct

Kwame's Wrongful Conviction

 

Kwame Ajamu was a teenager in Cleveland, Ohio, when he was sentenced to death in 1975 for the murder-robbery of a money order salesman named Harold Franks.

 

The sole evidence against Kwame, known as Ronnie Bridgeman at the time, and his co-defendants, brother Wiley Bridgeman and friend Ricky Jackson, was the false, coerced eyewitness testimony of a 13-year-old boy named Eddie Vernon. No physical or forensic evidence linked any of them to the crime, none of them had any prior criminal record, and defense witnesses provided all three with credible alibis. Nevertheless, all three were sentenced to death just months after their arrest.

 

In January 2003, Kwame was released from prison on parole, still carrying the stigma of being arrested for a heinous crime he did not commit.

 

In 2011, Cleveland Scene magazine published a detailed examination of the case and highlighted the numerous inconsistencies in young Eddie Vernon’s testimony, along with the absence of any other evidence linking Jackson and the Bridgemans to the crime. The reporter, Kyle Swenson, reached out to the pastor of Vernon in an attempt to talk to him. The pastor later said in a sworn affidavit that “Edward Vernon told me that he lied to the police when he said he had witnessed the murder in 1975, and he had put three innocent men in prison for murder. He told me that he tried to back out of the lie at the time of the line-up, but he was only a child and the police told him it was too late to change his story.” At the urging of his pastor, Vernon publicly recanted his story, setting in motion the exonerations of Kwame Ajamu, Wiley Bridgeman, and Ricky Jackson.

 

Prompted by the recantation, attorneys with the Ohio Innocence Project filed a petition for a new trial on behalf of Jackson. Similar petitions were later filed on behalf of Bridgeman and Ajamu. The Ohio Innocence Project’s re-investigation of the case uncovered evidence that when Vernon attempted to recant his identification of the three defendants, police intimidated him to testify falsely. The police had never disclosed to the defense attorneys for the three defendants that Vernon attempted to recant his accusation prior to the trials.

 

In November 2014, Judge Richard McMonagle granted motions for a new trial filed by Ricky Jackson and Wiley Bridgeman and vacated their convictions. The prosecution then dismissed the charges against both of them and they were released.

 

On December 9, 2014, Kwame Ajamu's conviction was vacated and the prosecution dismissed the charges against him. Kwame served 28 years in prison and was exonerated after 39 years.

 

Kwame's Work Today

 

When incarcerated, Kwame was confined to a cell just wide enough to stretch his arms, and the prospect of execution loomed over him. He hopes that no one has to endure what he has endured; since exoneration, he has become solely focused on abolishing the death penalty all over the world and fighting for criminal justice reform.

 

Kwame now lives in Ohio with his wife and serves as Chairman of the Board of Witness to Innocence. He travels across the United States speaking against the death penalty.

 

Publications:

 

Good Kids, Bad City

  • Written by Kyle Swenson, the journalist who helped Kwame fight for his innocence, about Ajamu, Bridgeman, and Jackson's case

  • Described as "the true story of the longest wrongful imprisonment in the United States to end in exoneration and a critical social and political history of Cleveland, the city that convicted them."

 

The Deprived: Innocent on Death Row

  • "The book is based on interviews with 10 Americans who have all been affected by wrongful convictions and the death penalty."

  • Includes interviews from Kwame Ajamu, Derrick Jamison, Damon Thibodeaux, and Herman Lindsey.

 

In The Media:

 

11.30.14 After Wrongful Conviction, Three Lifetimes Spent With Hope In Check

12.9.14 - Ohio man exonerated after spending 27 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit

12.9.14 Exonerated after 40 years: Ohio man says 'I could have been Barack Obama'

1.29.15 A record 125 people were exonerated of crimes in 2014. Here are 6 of their stories.

2.11.15 3 wrongfully convicted men adjusting to life outside prison; preparing to collect more than $3 million

4.9.15 Exonerated: How This Innocent Man Spent 39 Years In Prison for a Murder He Didn’t Commit

7.2.15 Wrongly imprisoned brothers sue detectives and city of Cleveland

2.23.16 Brothers wrongfully imprisoned for 1975 fatal shooting to receive $4.38 million from state

5.15.17 Lush Cosmetics Partners With the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

7.19.17 Death Penalty Opponents Appeal To Governor To Stop Upcoming Executions

8.4.17 Judge says Cleveland not liable for three men who wrongfully served decades in prison

5.4.18 Death row exonerees gather at state capitol to call for an end to the death penalty

11.11.18 Man falsely imprisoned for 27 years speaks at OU

11.13.18 For death row survivors, the fight against capital punishment starts in Philly

2.23.19 Exposing injustice and a city's dark side

2.28.19 Men Wrongfully Convicted Of Murder Open Up About Exoneration

8.20.19 Life after death row: Witness to Innocence group brings former prisoners to Eagle County

8.20.19 Free at last: Death row exonerees share their stories with Vail Valley audience

8.21.19 Exonerated from death row, panelists address legal professionals in Eagle County

8.21.19 21,000 lost years: Former death row inmates speak in Breck... on Krystal 93 news

8.21.19 Death row exonerees speak out at Breckenridge panel

 

 

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