After decades in prison, Kwame Ajamu is finally a free man. In 1975, then 17-year-old Ajamu was convicted of murdering Harry Frank in Cleveland, Ohio. Ajamu, then known as Ronnie Bridgeman, was jailed alongside his brother Wiley Bridgeman, then 20, and their friend Ricky Jackson, 19. Jackson, now 59, and Bridgeman, 60, were released earlier this month after all charges against them were dropped.
Ajame has technically been out of prison since he was released on parole in 2003. However, he was only exonerated from murder charges yesterday. He was initially sentenced to death, but his punishment was later reduced to life in prison.
Since his release, Ajame has rebuilt his life and gotten married. He says he now feels free to live his life. “I can even go back to being Ronnie Bridgeman, but I'm not,' he said. 'They killed Ronnie Bridgeman. They killed his spirit. They killed everything he believed in, everything he ever wanted.”
The exoneration came after the prosecution’s star witness Eddie Vernon, who was just 12 at the time, admitted that the police fed him evidence and he didn’t see the crime actually happen. He told Scene “I don't exactly know why I went up to the police at first. I think I just wanted to be helpful…You have to understand I was 12 years old at the time. I thought I was doing the right thing” Vernon said the police threatened to arrest his parents for perjury if he backed out of the trial, even though his testimony was different at all three hearings.
Terry Gilbert, who represented Ajamu and his brother, said “to recognize an injustice ... it gives me faith and hope in this criminal justice system that good things can come out of it from time to time.” The three men stand to collect a combined $4.1 million for their wrongful time in prison.
Ajamu said he hopes he can one day tell Vernon face-to-face that he doesn’t blame him for his time in prison.