Exoneration Integrity

Recently, the Ohio Innocence Project announced a triple exoneration of their client Ricky Jackson and his codefendants Kwame Ajamu (formerly Ronnie Bridgeman) and Wiley Bridgeman, former death row inmates who spent nearly 40 years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit. Their convictions were based on the testimony of a then-12-year-old boy who recanted decades later. The case is reminiscent of Center on Wrongful Convictions client Jacques Rivera, who was likewise exonerated after the sole witness against him, a then-12-year-old boy, similarly recanted decades later.

In the Ricky Jackson case, prosecutors voluntarily dismissed charges last month after the recanting witness finished testifying. What they did this month, though, is even more astonishing and laudable. On December 9, 2014, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty filed a “notice of intent” document in the Court of Common Pleas intended to expedite the process of qualifying the three men for state compensation. In pertinent part, the notice states:

“[T]he Cuyahoga County Prosecutor has no evidence tying any of the three convicted defendants to the crimes, considers the defendants innocent, and joins in the defense motions to declare them so.  They have been victims of a terrible injustice. In order to further justice and to avoid the unnecessary accumulation of attorney’s fees on behalf of the defendants, it is the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s position not to oppose the anticipated wrongful imprisonment claims.”

In October 2014, the Center on Wrongful Convictions hosted a Conviction Integrity Conference, which addressed prosecutors’ efforts to take matters into their own hands and address wrongful convictions from inside their offices. Jose Torres, the head of the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Conviction Integrity Unit, was a panelist at the conference. It is to be hoped that the courageous and compassionate action by his office in the Ricky Jackson case will motivate other prosecutors to affirmatively pave the way for speedy declarations of innocence and state compensation after the dismissal of charges against innocent persons who have served time in prison.

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