CLEVELAND (AP) — Three exonerated men once convicted and sentenced to death in a 1975 slaying were wrongfully imprisoned, an Ohio judge declared, opening the door for them to receive millions of dollars in compensation.
The ruling on Wednesday allows Wiley Bridgeman, Ricky Jackson and Kwame Ajamu to file cases in the Ohio Court of Claims. Under Ohio law, wrongfully imprisoned former inmates can be paid more than $40,000 for each year they were incarcerated, The Plain Dealer reported (http://bit.ly/17luNzw ).
The three men were exonerated late last year. Ajamu was released in 2003 after 27 years in prison. Bridgeman and Jackson were released in November after nearly 40 years behind bars.
"Gentlemen, I am truly sorry for what happened to you," said Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Shannon Gallagher as she hugged the men and concluded the Wednesday hearing.
The three had been convicted and sentenced to death in the slaying of a businessman outside on a corner store on a warm spring day in 1975. The case against them unraveled last year when the prosecution's star witness recanted his testimony.
Ajamu, then known as Ronnie Bridgeman, was 17 when he was sent to death row. Jackson was 19, and Wiley Bridgeman was 20. Their death sentences were later commuted to life terms.
The cases are expected to move quickly through the Court of Claims, said Attorney Terry Gilbert, who represents Bridgeman and Ajamu. He expects the men will receive some of the money within three or four months of filing their claims.
After decades behind bars, the men said they're adjusting to life after their exonerations.
Bridgeman said he's familiarizing himself with the changing face of downtown Cleveland, and adjusting to the fact that a bus ride no longer costs 15 cents.
Jackson said his favorite thing is being able to come and go when he wants.
"I'm just trying to be an ordinary person," he said.