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2 Ohio Death Row Inmates Exonerated After 39 Years

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By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on November 24, 2014 2:31 PM

Two Ohio men sentenced to death for a 1975 murder have been exonerated after 39 years in prison.

Ricky Jackson and Wiley Bridgeman were set free after the prosecution's key witness recanted his testimony during a hearing last week, reports The Plain Dealer. Following the hearing, the prosecution dropped its objections to a new trial for the men, and later dropped the charges against Jackson and Bridgeman, clearing them of any wrongdoing in the case.

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, Jackson and Bridgeman's nearly four decades behind bars are the longest sentences ever served by any person who was later exonerated. How did these men manage to clear their names so many years after the fact?

Murder Conviction

In 1975, Jackson, Bridgeman and Bridgeman's brother Ronnie were convicted of murder in the death of Harold Franks. According to police, Franks was attacked by two men as he walked into a store. The men threw acid in Franks' face, beat him, then shot him before stealing his briefcase and fleeing in a waiting car.

Although there was no evidence linking Jackson and the Bridgemans to the crime, the three were convicted based primarily on the testimony of a single eye-witness: 12-year-old Eddie Vernon. Vernon told police he saw the murder take place and provided the police with Jackson and the Bridgeman brothers' names.

Recanted Testimony

Unlike many recent high-profile exonerations based on DNA evidence, the turning point in Jackson and Wiley Bridgeman's case (Ronnie Bridgeman was freed in 2003 after serving 27 years in prison) came when Eddie Vernon recanted his testimony, admitting that he was miles away from the scene of Harold Franks' murder at the time it occurred.

According to Vernon's testimony -- which was corroborated by both a polygraph and other witnesses called to testify at the hearing -- Vernon was on a school bus nowhere near the crime scene when the crime occurred, but he lied to police about seeing the crime. Vernon said that after coming forward as a witness, he was subsequently fed information by police about the crime.

Following Vernon's recanting of his testimony, prosecutors made the decision to dismiss the charges against the three men, giving the men their freedom after almost 40 years behind bars and likely setting the stage for a wrongful conviction lawsuit.

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