Murder exoneree Kwame Ajamu to speak at IU McKinney School of Law

  • Nov. 9, 2015


INDIANAPOLIS -- On Friday, Nov. 13, the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law Wrongful Conviction Clinic, in conjunction with the Indiana Abolition Coalition, will host Kwame Ajamu, who was exonerated of murder in February, 12 years after his parole following 28 years in prison for the crime.

Ajamu's story is one of a wrong righted after years of punishment. The exoneree will speak at 7:15 p.m. in the Wynne Courtroom of the law school's building, Inlow Hall, 530 W. New York St., on the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus.

At the age of 17, Kwame Ajamu, then known as Ronnie Bridgeman, was sent to death row from a Cleveland courtroom for the 1975 stabbing and shooting murder of a money-order salesman. No physical or forensic evidence linked Ajamu, his brother and a friend to the heinous crime. Rather, the prosecution's case rested on the testimony of Eddie Vernon, who was 13 when he testified. All three were convicted.

Ajamu's death sentence was commuted to life in 1978, when Ohio's death-penalty statute was declared unconstitutional. He was paroled in 2003 after serving 28 years. 

The Ohio Innocence Project agreed to reinvestigate the case after a 2011 magazine article highlighted inconsistencies in Vernon's eyewitness testimony.  In November 2014, Vernon told a judge reviewing the matter that the police gave him the details of the crime.

In February 2015, Ajamu was declared innocent. 

The law school's Wrongful Conviction Clinic, directed by professor Fran Watson, is a founding member of the Innocence Network. The international group of about 60 organizations is "dedicated to providing pro bono legal and investigative services to individuals seeking to prove innocence of crimes for which they have been convicted." The network is also dedicated to policy reforms leading to the prevention of wrongful convictions.

About 16 to 20 students each year are accepted into the Wrongful Conviction Clinic program. Their success stories include the 2001 release of Larry Mayes of Gary, Ind., who was exonerated of rape based on DNA testing that resulted from the work of Watson and four of her clinic students. In 2008, a federal court approved a $4.5 million settlement for Mayes, who spent 21 years in prison on the wrongful conviction.

Diane Brown