Ohio prisoners freed 39 years after wrongful murder convictions

This is from: Deutsche Welle, Nov 21, 2014:

After decades behind bars for a 1975 murder they did not commit, Ricky Jackson and Wiley Bridgeman have walked free in Ohio. The key witness, a 12-year-old boy at the time, said police coerced him into false testimony.

Ricky Jackson, 57, and Wiley Bridgeman, 60, walked free on Friday after spending two-thirds of their lives in Ohio prisons for a murder they did not commit. The two men, and Bridgeman’s brother Ronnie, who now goes by the name Kwame Ajamu, were sentenced to death in 1975.

A child, Eddie Vernon, testified that he saw the trio kill businessman Harry Franks on May 19 that year. Vernon recently admitted that he never saw the murder, saying that police detectives had coerced him into giving false testimony in the trial.

“The English language doesn’t even fit what I’m feeling, I’m on an emotional high,” Jackson said on Friday after his release, also saying that he harbored no ill will towards witness Vernon.
“I guess a lot of people will want me to hate that person and carry animosity towards them, but I don’t,” Jackson said. “People see him as a grown man today, but in 1975 he was a 12-year-old kid and he was manipulated and coerced by the police and they used him to get us in prison. As far as that young man is concerned, I wish him the best. I don’t hate him, I just wish he has a good life.”
Once set for death penalty, now pardoned

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, a University of Michigan project tracking wrongful convictions, Jackson’s 39 years in prison make him the longest-serving exoneree in US history.

The three-year process leading to the exonerations started with a story published in Scene Magazine in 2011, detailing flaws in the case and questionable elements of star witness Vernon’s testimony. Vernon, now 52, recanted in 2013 when a religious official visited him.

During a court hearing for Jackson on Tuesday, Vernon broke down as he described detectives’ threats before the trial, and the burden of guilt he had shouldered since. By Thursday, prosecutors had filed a motion to dismiss all charges against the three men.

After Scene’s 2011 article, the Ohio branch of Innocence Project, a national organization fighting to exonerate people convicted wrongfully, took up Jackson and Bridgeman’s cause.

ll three men were initially handed the death sentence, but their sentences were later commuted to life in prison. According to Mark Godsey from the Ohio Innocence Project, “one of them came within 20 days of execution before Ohio ruled the death penalty unconstitutional.”

Ronnie Bridgeman, now Kwame Ajamu, was released in 2003; he attended both men’s exoneration hearings on Friday.

The Shame of Lorain: The Nancy Smith/Joseph Allen Wrongful Conviction….

Please sign this petition to ask the Governor of Ohio to Grant Clemency for Nancy Smith.

From: The Wrongful Convictions Blog, by Mark Godsey (on the Wrongful Convictions Blog)

Nancy Smith

I’ve decided to post some materials from the Nancy Smith/Joseph Allen case (also known as the Head Start case) here for those who watch Dateline NBC or Anderson Cooper, and then get on the computer and do some google searches to learn more about the case.

Here is where you can sign a letter to Governor Kasich asking him to pardon Nancy.
Here is the full Dateline episode on Nancy’s case.

Here is an important article on the case, The Shame of Lorain, that was published in 2005…

Here is the new pardon application that the Ohio Innocence Project and NYC law firm Davis Polk filed with Ohio Gov. Kasich this past Friday…

Here is the Fight for Nancy Smith facebook page

Here is the parole letter that the OIP filed for Nancy in 2007, outlining the reasons why she is innocent.

And here is a digital version of the art book, Illustrated Truth, with Nancy Smith’s story and her painting about freedom.  You can purchase this beautiful and moving book for $30 by emailing Jodi at jodi.shorr@gmail.com.

Roger Dean Gillispie could be freed from prison

Dec 15, 2011
Via: Newstalk Radio
By Charles Van Sant

DAYTON, Ohio — Roger Dean Gillispie, convicted of rape, could be set free. U.S. Magistrate Michael Merz ordered that Gillispie be retried or freed by July based on evidence which had been rejected in the past.

Gillispie has been fighting his convictions for 20 years. He argued Tuesday for a new trial before three appeals judges.

Gillispie was tried and convicted of raping three women in August, 1988. The conviction was appealed in 1993. He had been serving a 16-to-50-year sentence at the London Correctional Institution. He has always maintained he was not guilty.

Much of the new evidence involves an “alternative suspect.” The defense claims the other suspect matches the descriptions of the rapist. That suspect, according to the defense, made statements to people he knew that were similar to statements made by the rapist.
UC law students celebrate overturned conviction
Dec. 16, 2011, Written by Janice Morse


Law students at the University of Cincinnati were celebrating Thursday after nine years of work paid off: A federal court overturned the conviction of a man who spent 20 years in prison for rapes the students are convinced he didn’t commit, says Mark Godsey, director of UC’s Ohio Innocence Project.

“Just about everyone who has looked at the case thinks there’s no chance he committed these crimes…even the original detectives on the case think he’s innocent,” Godsey said about the case of Roger Dean Gillispie, who was convicted of the 1988 rapes of three women near the Dayton Mall.

Godsey notes that former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro worked diligently on the case, too, and Petro devotes considerable space to the Gillispie case in his acclaimed book, “False Justice: Eight Myths that Convict the Innocent.”

But he says Montgomery County prosecutors have said they will fight Gillispie’s release, and they intend to appeal a decision issued Thursday, ordering Gillispie to be freed.

A federal judge concluded that Gillispie, who was convicted of rape, kidnapping and aggravated robbery in 1991, did not get a fair trial — and he must be retried by July 1 or freed from prison.

U.S. District Magistrate Judge Michael Merz wrote in his ruling Thursday that the prosecution improperly withheld information from jurors. Merz said jurors never heard testimony that the original investigating officers eliminated Gillispie as a suspect.

Three victims testified that Gillispie was the person who committed the crimes. But Merz wrote that there was no physical evidence connecting Gillispie to the crimes.

Messages left at the Montgomery County prosecutor’s office in Dayton were not immediately returned.

Gillispie was sentenced to 22 to 56 years in prison.

The story of how Gillispie was convicted despite no DNA evidence is complex, Godsey said. But, in short, he blames “a misleading photo lineup with a cop who was telling the girls, ‘This is the guy who did it.’”

“This corrupt cop even lied to the victims, telling the girls that the suspect would look different than they remembered, because he had dyed his hair — which was not true,” Godsey said.

Gillispie had no prior criminal record and worked as a firefighter at a General Motors plant in Moraine, Ohio, outside Dayton. “He was a union agitator, and a supervisor who he didn’t get along with turned him in” as a possible suspect in the rapes, Godsey said.

“We found the original detectives in the case who were honest and revealed things that were withheld from the defense, including that the person who turned Gillispie in as a suspect had a vendetta against him…and the detectives had information that proved he couldn’t have done it,” Godsey said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.