‘We are free’: Wrongly-convicted man to join friend who also spent decades behind bars

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CLEVELAND- A man who spent almost 30 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit talked exclusively with FOX 8 News on Thursday.

"I was sentenced to die, as was Ricky and my brother. We were 17, 18, and 20.  For a crime we didn't do," said Kwame Kamu Ajamu, of Cleveland.

Ajamu was once Ronnie Bridgeman and he's now 54 years old.

"You have a young man who at 17, watched his older brother who was his idol, lay three cells over on death row, as we were sentenced to die," said Ajamu.

He, along with his brother, Wiley Bridgeman, and friend Ricky Jackson, were convicted of murdering a man near University Circle in Cleveland back in 1975.

"I remember May 1975 as if it were five minutes ago," said Ajamu.

And it's all he's thought about until Tuesday.

That is when a key witness, Edward Vernon, who was 12 at the time, recanted his testimony at a hearing for Ricky Jackson.

"I was putting in a fuel pump on my car with a friend when Ricky Jackson actually called me.  That is me on the phone in the picture.  He says, it's over,  it's over.  And so my brother, my friend, we are free," cried Ajamu.

Jackson will be released from prison Friday after 39 years behind bars.

Wiley Bridgeman remains incarcerated.

Before he was Ajamu, Ronnie Bridgeman spent almost 28 years in prison.

"I was about 25 when I actually forgave Edward Vernon.  Edward put me on death row for absolutely no reason at all.  But Edward didn't do that, he was a child at the time," said Ajamu.

He went from death row to general population.

Due to good behavior and participation in outstanding programs, Ronnie Bridgeman paroled out in 2003.

He changed his name to Kwame Kamu Ajamu in 2005.

"I changed it because Ronnie Bridgeman was dead.  He had died and it was over with. He was never getting out of prison," said Ajamu.

Since then, Ajamu has gotten married and tried to resume life as a normal man.

"To this day, I still get lost.  I have a GPS in my car.  And this is my town, I was born and raised in Cleveland.  I was in prison more time than I was actually in Cleveland," said Ajamu.

He still keeps a close friendship with Kyle Swenson, a writer for Cleveland Scene, who published Ajamu's story in 2011.

Swenson's article was instrumental to the Ohio Innocence Project's investigation that eventually prompted Jackson's release from prison.

"This high I am on right now, I can’t even tell you.  My hands are kind of shaking.  And it has nothing to do with me.  It has everything to do with Wiley Bridgeman and Ricky Jackson and to see them on on this side of the fence," said Ajamu.

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