EAST CLEVELAND -- Vindication for an East Cleveland man who spent eleven years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
David Ayers, 56, has been awarded one of the largest civil rights verdicts for wrongful imprisonment.
"My freedom, my freedom. Nice fresh air,” Ayers said as he walked outside his East Cleveland apartment on Saturday.
Dorothy Brown, 76, was found beaten to death in her CMHA apartment on Dec. 17, 1999.
Despite no physical evidence, Ayers believes Cleveland police were eager to accuse him of the murder.
As a CMHA security officer, he had access to Brown's apartment, and he had been there earlier in the day, with another resident, to assist the disabled woman.
"I was devastated. I was devastated that I would hurt anyone, especially someone elderly like Dorothy. She was a good person,” Ayers said.
Cuyahoga County public defenders and the Ohio Innocence Project worked to clear Ayers.
Later, DNA testing on hairs found at the crime scene excluded Ayers.
The charges were dropped and Ayers walked out of prison a free man on Sept. 12, 2011.
"I was in tears. I was just crying because I am finally free after eleven years for a crime I was accused of,” he said.
On Friday, a Federal jury returned one of the largest civil rights verdicts -- $13.2 million – for the wrongful prosecution and imprisonment of David Ayers.
He said he is overwhelmed by the verdict.
"It can never bring back all the time that I lost, for the years I was incarcerated. But, it can make me a better person and I can go on with my life,” he said.
In response to the judgment, the City of Cleveland Law Director Barbara Langhenry said, “We are disappointed in the verdict and are considering our options."
Ayers is also considering his options.
He is now studying criminal justice and hopes to one day help others.
"I just don't want what happened to me to happen to anyone else," he said.
Ayers said the first thing he wants to do once he receives his settlement is to travel.