After spending 27 years behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit, Kawme Ajamu was paroled in 2003. Now, at 57, he has been cleared of all charges, the Washington Post reports.
Ajamu was still a teenager, 17, when he was convicted of killing Cleveland money order salesman Harold Franks in 1975, the Post notes. The case against him came crumbling down decades later after a key witness recanted his testimony last month, the Post notes.
“I’m so happy today that this battle had come to an end,” Ajamu said as he thanked his attorneys, crying as his name was cleared, according to Reuters. Cuyahoga County Judge Pamela Barker and the prosecutor gave Ajamu a hug.
Franks was attacked by two people with acid before being shot by one of the aggressors. A third accomplice drove the getaway car, the Post notes. The main witness at the time was 12-year-old Eddie Vernon, whose testimony at the trial led to the conviction of Ajamu, once known as Ronnie Bridgeman; his brother Wiley Bridgeman, then 20; and Ricky Jackson, 19. All three young men were sentenced to death but had their sentences commuted.
Vernon recanted his testimony last month, admitting that he never saw the attack and just wanted to help the police. Jackson was exonerated in November after serving 39 years in prison, the longest sentence ever served by an exonerated individual, the Post notes. Two hours later, Bridgeman was also cleared.
The two brothers and Jackson could seek up to $4.1 million for their wrongful imprisonment, the Post notes, and prosecutors in Cuyahoga County have already said that they would not oppose such an action.
“I can even go back to being Ronnie Bridgeman, but I’m not,” Ajamu said, according to AP. “They killed Ronnie Bridgeman. They killed his spirit. They killed everything he believed in, everything he ever wanted. I wanted to be something, too. I could have been a lawyer possibly. I could have been Barack Obama. Who knows?
“We were robbed,” Ajamu also said, according to the Plain Dealer. “There will be no offspring when I die. When my brother passes away, that is it. We don’t have children. There will never be another Ronnie Bridgeman.”