Friday was a day of celebration for two men who were wrongly accused of murder and finally freed from prison after 39 long years. Ricky Jackson, 57, and Wiley Bridgeman, 60, were convicted of murder of a Harold Franks, a businessman who was standing outside a store in Cleveland on May 19, 1975, as reported by WKYC.
The eye witness responsible for putting the men behind bars was Eddie Vernon, who was 13-years-old at the time. USA Today reports that Vernon recanted his story and admitted to lying to the court. Vernon confessed that he was actually on a school bus at the time of Franks’ murder.
The video below shows an incredible touching moment as the two friends, who have not seen each other in almost four decades, embrace as they celebrate their moment of freedom. A moment that words cannot describe even by the two innocent victims imprisoned for a crime they did not commit.
A story published in Cleveland’s Scene magazine in 2011 revealed that specific errors in the murder case began a three-year process in the exoneration of Jackson and Bridgeman. Eddie Vernon’s testimony was a vital part of the process, according to USA Today.
Vernon, who is now 52-years-old, didn’t recant his story until a minister visited him in the hospital in 2013. As he gave his truthful testimony just a few days ago in court, Vernon revealed the threats he claimed he received from the Cleveland police detectives and described the overwhelming guilt he felt for almost four decades.
Ricky Jackson, who has every right to be bitter for being wrongly accused and spending most of his life behind bars for something he didn’t do, revealed that he held no animosity toward Vernon, according to USA Today.
“It took a lot of courage to do what he did. He’s been carrying a burden around for 39 years, like we have. But in the end, he came through, and I’m grateful for that.”
Metro reports that Jackson “is the longest serving prisoner to be fully exonerated of his crimes in United States history according to a lawyer from the Ohio Innocence Project.”
As both Bridgeman and Jackson were released from prison in separate court hearings, Jackson walked into his courtroom with a huge smile as he waved at the people in attendance. Metro reports Jackson stating how he felt at that moment as he was receiving his freedom, which he must have thought was an impossible moment after so long.
“It’s extraordinary, I’m glad to be out, it has been an emotional roller coaster. The English language doesn’t have the words to express how I’m feeling right now.”
Judge Richard McConagle of Cuyahoga County Commons Pleas Court spoke directly to Jackson, according to USA Today.
“Life is filled with small victories, and this is a big one. Know who your friends are because everyone is going to want a piece of you. You better trust the people who you know you can trust. So, I wish you good luck.”
Jackson graciously replied, “I’d like to thank you for conducting the proceedings in a fair and impartial manner. I would also like to thank the prosecutor’s office for showing a lot of integrity. You guys let the evidence be heard, and you followed the evidence. I would like to thank you.”
Bridgeman was equally as thankful during his court hearing. His judge also gave him some words of encouragement, stating, “I wish you the best of luck as you go forward. It’s going to be difficult making the transition for you.”
Bridgeman replied with a sincere, heartfelt “thank you” to the court. Bridgeman’s brother, Ronnie, was there to take his brother out to a “celebratory fish dinner” before taking him home.
Bridgeman embraced his brother, Ronnie, now known as Kwame Ajamu, as he walked out of the courthouse. He seemed overwhelmed by the whirlwind of the past few days, saying he wasn’t sure what the future holds, outside of a celebratory fish dinner. USA Today reveals Ronnie’s touching comment to his brother.
“Stick with me. You’ll be all right. I ain’t never going to let you go.”
[Photo Credit: ABCNews.go.com]