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Ferguson Grand Jury Still at Work


Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(ST. LOUIS) -- A grand jury in St. Louis County, Missouri, is expected to reconvene on Monday, trying to decide whether to indict a white police officer in the August shooting death of an unarmed black teen.

The weekend was marked by protests in the city of Ferguson, with security tight and tensions running high ahead of the grand jury’s decision. Many people were expecting the grand jury to come to a decision over the weekend.

While the jurors debate possible criminal charges against officer Darren Wilson, additional law enforcement -- including the National Guard and more than 100 FBI agents -- is stationed in Ferguson ahead of the grand jury’s decision.

The Saint Louis County Police Department switched its officers to 12-hour shifts in recent days. Metal and concrete barricades have been erected in areas around the St Louis County government buildings in Clayton, Missouri, where the grand jury has been meeting. The justice center there also houses the prosecutor's office, the St. Louis County Police Department headquarters and the circuit courts.

A handful of arrests were made during the weekend. Some stores in the St. Louis suburb remain closed, with business owners boarding up windows in fear.

“We look abandoned here, pretty much imprisoned,” business owner Triondus Sleet said. “It’s sad.”

Wilson could be charged with murder or manslaughter -- or nothing -- for the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown. If cleared, a police union rep said he should be able to return to work.

“It would be my hope though that if, one day, he decides to stay in law enforcement, that he's able to do that,” said Detective Gabe Crocker, president of the St. Louis County Police Association. "Especially if he’s cleared, that means he didn’t do anything wrong, according to the grand jury."

President Obama, in an exclusive interview with ABC News, urged for calm no matter what decision the grand jury reaches, a sentiment also expressed by Brown’s mother and father.

“Using any event as an excuse for violence is contrary to rule of law and contrary to who we are,” Obama said.

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University of Virginia's Campus Reeling over Sexual Assault Allegations


Lance King/Getty Images(CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.) -- Students at the University of Virginia on Monday praised the school's decision to suspend all fraternities and sororities in the wake of a report about a shocking sexual assault at a frat party.

The Greek life at the school was suspended by university President Teresa Sullivan after rape accusations were detailed in a Rolling Stone article. The report sparked weekend protests on the Charlottesville campus.

Tommy Reid, the president of the school’s inter-fraternity council, said that ending sexual assault on campus can’t be done by frat brothers alone.

“It’s much larger and much more complicated than the Greek system itself. I think it’s important to understand the temporary ban in itself gives our community time to take a breath to sit back and talk and be active and develop what we consider to be actionable and long term solutions,” he said.

“The culture here is not just a UVA issue. This is a pervasive national epidemic,” Ashley Brown, the leader of One Less, a group that helps sexual assault survivors, said Monday morning.

The Rolling Stone expose involves a first-year student’s allegation in which she says she was “gang-raped” at a Phi Kappa Psi frat party. The victim claims the attack happened in 2012. That year, the university was crowned by Playboy as the nation’s top party school.

The student, identified as “Jackie” in the article, said she felt obligated to stay silent and was even told by a roommate to “remember where your loyalty lies.”

Alexandria Pinkelton, a friend of the student, said she was proud of her friend’s determination. “One of her goals with doing this article is to try to spread awareness,” she said.

The national leadership of Phi Kappa Psi decried the situation in a statement, saying, “We do not condone violence under any circumstances.”

Sullivan suspended all campus fraternities and sororities in the wake of the scandal. In addition, Sullivan stated that the school’s board of visitors will be meeting on Tuesday “to discuss the University’s policies and procedures regarding sexual assault as well as the specific, recent allegations.”

"I write you in great sorrow, great rage, but most importantly, great determination," Sullivan wrote in a statement sent to the University of Virginia community. "Meaningful change is necessary, and we can lead that change for all universities."

The current situation feels too familiar for Liz Seccuro, who has claimed she was raped in the same frat house as a freshman in 1984. The school has done little to improve its culture in the ensuing decades because it’s too worried about its reputation, Seccuro said.

“For 30 years, to have no progress made is inexplicable and heartbreaking,” Seccuro said.

According to the Rolling Stone article, 38 students reported sexual assault to university officials in the last academic year, but of those 38 only four resulted in sexual misconduct board meetings.

The university is one of 86 schools under federal investigation or compliance review for their handling of sexual misconduct.

Attorney Wendy Murphy has filed lawsuits against nine schools, including the University of Virginia.

“I’ve seen UVA behave badly for a long, long time, and this is the first time they’ve faced such a significant public scandal. It’s long overdue,” Murphy said.

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Obama and Holder Plea for Calm Ahead of Ferguson Decision


JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- With a grand jury decision in the Michael Brown shooting death not expected until Monday at the earliest, both President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have issued pleas for a calm and measured response to the verdict.

The grand jury, which convenes again Monday, will determine what charges, if any, to bring against Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. Last August 9, Wilson shot Brown, who was unarmed, six times following an altercation.

The racially-charged incident touched off confrontations between the African-American community and law enforcement officers and many fear the civil unrest will be even more violent if Wilson is exonerated.

In an exclusive interview with ABC News, President Obama urged residents to "keep protests peaceful," saying, "You know, this is a country that allows everybody to express their views, allows them to peacefully assemble to protest actions that they think are unjust, but using any event as an excuse for violence is contrary to rule of law and contrary to who we are."

Meanwhile, Attorney General Eric Holder said in a video released by the Justice Department, "History has...shown us that the most successful and enduring movements for change are those that adhere to non-aggression and nonviolence," a sentiment similarly expressed by Michael Brown Sr., who released his own video appealing for calm.

Holder also stated that "long-simmering tensions will not be cooled overnight,” and he touted the “importance” of police forces engaging with communities long before times of crisis.

 

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Rising Temperatures Bring Fear of Floods in Western New York


John Normile/Getty Images(BUFFALO, N.Y.) -- The worst is over for the Buffalo, New York, area as far as the snow is concerned.

Now comes the danger of epic floods with temperatures rising and the threat of rain with some suburbs still covered in seven or eight feet of snow.

At a news briefing Sunday, Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters, "Flooding in my opinion is worse than dealing with snow. It’s not water, it’s a toxic brew…It has all sorts of sewage in it."

The chief worry in Buffalo-area towns like Hamburg or the city of Lackawanna is that rapid melting will turn basements and living rooms into swimming pools even as some homes had their roofs collapse under the weight of unprecedented autumn snowfall.

To that end, a frantic snow clean-up continues with the governor calling on trucks and equipment from other parts of the state, including Albany and New York City.

Meanwhile, emergency shelters have been set up by the Red Cross for possible evacuations should residents have to get out of their homes quickly.  Cuomo ordered over 50 boats and "swift-water" rescue teams to be at the ready for calls as waters rise.

 

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Pennsylvania Residents Complain About “Ugly” Christmas Tree


File photo. (The Image Bank/Getty Images)(READING, Pa.) -- The Christmas tree in downtown Reading, Pennsylvania, wasn’t exactly bringing holiday cheer.

According to WFMZ.com, many residents complained that the 50-foot Norway Spruce was “ugly” and “pathetic,” and now it’s being replaced. "I think it does look a little pitiful," resident Teresa Rodriguez said of the scraggly spruce. "I think they picked the wrong tree."

Another resident who works near the tree, Martin McNeil, added, "It was a waste of time for them to even come out here and put this tree up. Honestly, they might as well put nothing out here."

In response to the bah-humbugs, the city has decided to replace the tree with one that's fuller and greener. The new tree is expected to be in place Monday or Tuesday. It will be decorated Friday and lit on Saturday. As for the poor old tree, it was adopted by a local business.

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Man Accused of Stealing 600 Combat Helmets


Getty Images(HARRISBURG, Pa.) -- Life’s tough, get a helmet…or 600…

A former Pennsylvania state employee is facing charges for allegedly stealing more than 600 military combat helmets, Philly.com reported. According to criminal charges filed Friday, 43-year-old Michael Gantz swiped the protective head gear from his job at the Pennsylvania Department of General Services’ surplus property warehouse.

The helmets, which were allegedly stolen between July 2009 and January 2010, have an estimated value of more than $5,000. Prosecutors said Gantz has filed an agreement indicating he will plead guilty to a felony count of theft concerning programs receiving federal funds. He faces up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

No word on what he actually did with the helmets after he stole them.

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Ferguson Grand Jury 'Unfair,' Michael Brown Family Lawyer Says


Credit: Frances Twitty/Getty Images(FERGUSON, Mo.) -- A lawyer for the family of the black 18-year-old fatally shot by a white police officer said Sunday the grand jury process playing out in Missouri is unlike anything he's seen before and is unfair.

The St. Louis County prosecuting attorney, Robert McCulloch, has said that, unlike with a typical grand jury, he would present to this grand jury all the evidence gathered in the police investigation and offer the jurors the opportunity to hear from any witness with relevant information.

The target of the investigation, Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, was among those who testified.

A spokesman for McCulloch has indicated that the prosecutor's office will not likely make a specific recommendation about charges, but would give the grand jurors a range of charges to consider, from involuntary manslaughter up to first-degree murder.

The grand jury investigating the killing of Michael Brown by Wilson is not meeting this weekend and will reconvene Monday, sources told ABC News.

"When you think about it, if this prosecutor is saying we're just going to be fair, we're not going to recommend any charges, that's different from anything he's done in his past 28 years with grand juries," attorney Benjamin Crump said Sunday on This Week.

"So, now are we going to say he was unfair to all those people and he's going to be extra fair, get a police extra rights?" said Crump, who also represented the family of Trayvon Martin. " Why can't it be equal justice?"

ABC News chief legal affairs anchor Dan Abrams said there is precedent for prosecutors presenting cases to grand juries without recommending charges, particularly high profile, controversial cases.

"I'm not going to dispute with you on the facts, but let's talk about the process and the law, which is that there are a lot of high profile cases, and I've seen them, where prosecutors say, 'You know what, I'm going to hand this one to the grand jury. I want the political cover on this one. I want to let them decide so I'm not the one who takes the heat on this decision,'" he said.

"So it is not sort of out of left field that in a high profile case a prosecutor hands it off to a grand jury to make that decision," he said.

Speculation that a decision on whether to indict Wilson in the shooting was coming soon has increased tensions in a town that already was on edge.

Federal, state and county officials have been ramping up their readiness in case there is a fresh wave of angry and, at times, violent protests over the jury's decision. Protesters have been demanding that Wilson be charged with murder for the Aug. 9 shooting of Brown.

The Saint Louis County Police Department switched their officers to 12-hour shifts on Saturday.

Metal and concrete barricades have been erected in areas around the St Louis County government buildings in Clayton, where the grand jury has been meeting. The justice center there also houses the prosecutor's office, the St. Louis County Police Department headquarters and the circuit courts.

Preparations are being made there for specific areas for anticipated protests.

There also appeared to be some minor increase in activity behind the strip mall in Jennings, the town next to Ferguson, where the Unified Command will be operating once they are notified a decision has been reached.

Many stores have boarded up their windows for fear of destructive protesters. The manager of Beauty Town Plus, a salon on West Florissant Avenue where much of the protests centered during the summer, told ABC News that they decided to board up because their windows were broken three times following Brown's death.

Law enforcement have taken the threat of violence seriously as well as two federal officials confirmed to ABC News that more than 100 FBI personnel are being sent to the St. Louis area to join those already in the area and opened an intelligence center to head up operations.

On Friday, federal authorities in Missouri charged two men with lying on forms to purchase guns ahead of the grand jury decision.

Olajuwon Davis and Brandon Baldwin faced only those charges as of late Friday, but sources told ABC News that authorities were looking into whether they tried to acquire ready-made explosives and other weapons ahead of the decision, which is expected soon.

The two men are suspected of being associated with the New Black Panther party, said sources briefed on the arrests. The charges that were filed were intended to "take them out of the rotation," according to one source.

Both Attorney General Eric Holder and Michael Brown Sr., the slain teenager's father, have released videos urging protesters to remain peaceful when the grand jury's decision is handed up.

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Boy Shot by Cleveland Police Dies


Credit: Adam Kazmierski/Getty Images(CLEVELAND) -- A 12-year-old boy who was shot by Cleveland police officers while carrying a replica gun in a park playground has died, hospital officials said Sunday.

The boy, who hasn't been identified, died at MetroHealth Medical Center after he was taken there for surgery Saturday afternoon.

Officers were called to the Cudell Recreation Center after receiving reports of the boy waving a gun and pointing it at people, the Cleveland Division of Police said in a statement.

Two officers found the boy in the playground and ordered him to raise his hands, but he instead reached for what the officers thought was a gun in his waistband, police said.

The officers fired twice, hitting the boy in the torso.

Officers learned the gun was fake after the shooting, police said. Made to resemble a semi-automatic pistol, the orange safety indicator had been removed from the "airsoft" replica gun the boy was holding.

“We are not rushing to judgment," said Timothy Kucharski, an attorney for the boy's mother. "The police are investigating the matter and we are waiting for the result of that investigation."

The witness who made the initial 911 call to police told the dispatcher that the boy's gun may not have been real and that he was a juvenile, according to audio released by the Cleveland Police Department on Sunday.

"It's probably fake," the witness said. "But it's scaring ... people."

The two officers involved in the shooting have been put on administrative leave, which is standard protocol.

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Ferguson Grand Jury to Reconvene Monday


Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images(FERGUSON, Mo.) -- The grand jury investigating the killing of Michael Brown by Ferguson, Mo., police Officer Darren Wilson is not meeting this weekend and will reconvene Monday, sources told ABC News.

Speculation that a decision on whether to indict Wilson in the shooting was coming soon has increased tensions in a town that already was on edge.

Federal, state and county officials have been ramping up their readiness in case there is a fresh wave of angry and, at times, violent protests over the jury's decision. Protesters have been demanding that Wilson be charged with murder for the Aug. 9 shooting of Brown.

The Saint Louis County Police Department switched their officers to 12-hour shifts on Saturday.

Metal and concrete barricades have been erected in areas around the St Louis County government buildings in Clayton, where the grand jury has been meeting. The justice center there also houses the prosecutor's office, the St. Louis County Police Department headquarters and the circuit courts.

Preparations are being made there for specific areas for anticipated protests.

There also appeared to be some minor increase in activity behind the strip mall in Jennings, the town next to Ferguson, where the Unified Command will be operating once they are notified a decision has been reached.

A lawyer for the Brown family described the city Friday as "nervous, on edge, scared" as people awaited the grand jury's decision.

"The city is really in a panic at this moment," attorney Anthony Gray said.

Many stores have boarded up their windows for fear of destructive protesters. The manager of Beauty Town Plus, a salon on West Florissant Avenue where much of the protests centered during the summer, told ABC News that they decided to board up because their windows were broken three times following Brown's death.

Law enforcement have taken the threat of violence seriously as well as two federal officials confirmed to ABC News that more than 100 FBI personnel are being sent to the St. Louis area to join those already in the area and opened an intelligence center to head up operations.

On Friday, federal authorities in Missouri charged two men with lying on forms to purchase guns ahead of the grand jury decision.

Olajuwon Davis and Brandon Baldwin faced only those charges as of late Friday, but sources told ABC News that authorities were looking into whether they tried to acquire ready-made explosives and other weapons ahead of the decision, which is expected soon.

The two men are suspected of being associated with the New Black Panther party, said sources briefed on the arrests. The charges that were filed were intended to "take them out of the rotation," according to one source.

Both Attorney General Eric Holder and Michael Brown Sr., the slain teenager's father, have released videos urging protesters to remain peaceful when the grand jury's decision is handed down.

The DA is trying to present a case that if there is no indictment, they can say, 'Look, it was them,'" said ABC News chief legal affairs anchor Dan Abrams.

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At Least Three Protesters Arrested in Ferguson Friday Night, Activist Groups and Local Authorities Aim to Keep Peace


JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images(FERGUSON, Mo.) -- At least three protesters were arrested in Ferguson on Friday night during demonstrations in advance of a possible grand jury decision related to the August shooting of Michael Brown by local police officer Darren Wilson.

According to the Saint Louis County Police Department, the three individuals were identified as Kenny Thomas, 55, David Rodriguez, 26, and William Morales, 23. Each of the three faces charges of unlawful assembly after they refused to leave the roadway when officers urged them to do so. The demonstrators, police say, were wearing "Anonymous" masks, and one of the demonstrators was using a bullhorn with a siren on it to shout profanities.

On Friday, state and local officials had announced an agreement with activist groups on how police should respond to protesters once they grand jury decision is made on whether or not to indict Wilson. The so-called "rules of engagement" aim to prevent the tensions and violence that boiled over during protests over the shooting earlier this year.

The grand jury will not meet this weekend, however, and will instead reconvene on Monday.

A U.S. delegation that reported to the United Nations Committee against Torture last week sent a letter to the U.N. on Friday calling for special rapporteurs to be sent to document possible human rights violations, should protests grow violent again.

Also on Friday evening, the American Civil Liberties Union announced that it had signed an agreement with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the County of Saint Louis and the City of Ferguson to affirm the rights of protesters to record law enforcement officers, an agreement that the ACLU of Missouri's legal director Tony Rothers called protection of the First Amendment rights of journalists.

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University of Virginia Suspends Fraternity Activities Following "Rolling Stone" Report


Photo by Visions of America/UIG via Getty Images(CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.) -- University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan announced on Saturday that all fraternities and related activities would be suspended through at least Jan. 9.

The action comes after a week in which a Rolling Stone magazine report detailed a sexual assault that allegedly occurred on the university's campus in 2012 that it says was handled improperly. Sullivan said in a letter to members of the university community that she has asked the Charlottesville Police Department to investigate the incident. "We can demand that incidents like those described in Rolling Stone never happen and that if they do, the responsible are held accountable to the law," Sullivan added. "this will require institutional change, cultural change and legislative change, and it will not be easy," the admitted, adding "we are making those changes."

The university's Inter-Fraternity council said Saturday that all fraternities would voluntarily suspend social activities for the weekend, but Sullivan decided that was only a first step, deciding instead to suspend the organizations through the beginning of the Spring semester.

In a letter sent to parents on Friday night, Sullivan said that sexual assault "has no place in our society, much less in an academic community characterized by freedom and civility."

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Boy Wakes Up From Coma After Surviving 225-Foot Fall From Cliff


Credit: CZQS2000 / STS/Getty Images(SAN FRANCISCO) -- A 4-year-old California boy has awakened from an induced coma after he was injured in a 225-foot fall onto rocks from an ocean-side cliff, according to ABC News station KGO-TV in San Francisco.

Jamie Guglielmino told ABC News that her son, Sebastion Johnson, woke up from the induced coma Wednesday, more than a week after he fell. The fall reportedly occurred on the evening of Nov. 10.

"All he knows is that he’s in pain and mommy’s there," said Guglielmino. "He looks at me. ... I can tell in his eyes, like, 'Where am I mommy?'"

Guglielmino said her son had multiple broken bones, including two broken hips, and a broken leg, arm and jaw.

"He’s definitely in the arms of angels right now," Guglielmino told ABC News. "It’s been real touch and go, but he’s on the road to recovery."

Sebastion was with Guglielmino, throwing rocks over a cliff in Bodega Bay, California, when he slipped and fell last week, according to KGO-TV. Sebastion's father and sister were also in the area and ran over after seeing him fall.

“He just misstepped and the ground gave and he just flew right down,” Sebastian's father, Daryl Johnson, told KGO-TV. “The incident that happened was my worst nightmare.”

Johnson said he could not see his son on the rocks, but a firefighter who rappelled down was able to spot Sebastian near the water, according to KGO-TV.

"He wasn't really talking, but I said, you know, 'If you like Spider-man or superheroes, you know, just try and think of them,' and just tried to keep him awake and moaning," firefighter Marcos Barros told KGO-TV.

The boy was put into an induced coma after arriving at Children’s Hospital Oakland. After coming out of the coma, he was listed in fair condition by the hospital.

Sebastion's family has created an online fundraiser to help deal with medical expenses from the accident.

"He’s very stubborn and a little fighter," said Johnson in an earlier interview with KGO-TV. "That’s why I’m a proud of him."

An official with the California Department of Parks and Recreation said the area where Sebastion was injured can be dangerous and difficult for people who are unfamiliar with it.

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John Sheridan's, Wife's Deaths Lead to Investigation by NJ Attorney General


Credit: Tetra Image/Getty Images(TRENTON, N.J.) -- The New Jersey attorney general's office is launching an investigation into the mysterious deaths of a couple who were close friends with Gov. Chris Christie.

Police found the bodies of John Sheridan and his wife Joyce Sherwood inside their home last September when a neighbor called police to report a suspicious fire.

"I believe my neighbor's house may be the beginnings of a fire," the neighbor told a 911 dispatcher.

The deaths were initially deemed a murder-suicide, but a source close to the investigation told ABC News that the Sherdians were stabbed several times with at least three different weapons.

Police have only retrieved two of those weapons, according to the source.

The investigation by the attorney general's office will be parallel to the police's investigation. The office has sent investigators to provide "additional manpower and expertise" to local police amid concerns over the progress detectives have made, officials said.

"They sense and know and understand there's a lot of frustration and people feel like we should just know," said family spokesman Tom Wilson. "They understand that this isn't for lack of trying on the part of law enforcement."

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Two in Ferguson Charged With Lying on Forms to Buy Guns Ahead of Grand Jury Decision


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Federal authorities in Missouri charged two men with lying on forms to purchase guns ahead of the grand jury decision in the police shooting of Michael Brown.

Olajuwon Davis and Brandon Baldwin only faced those charges as of late Friday, but sources told ABC News that authorities were looking into whether they tried to acquire ready-made explosives and other weapons ahead of the decision, which is expected soon.

The two men are suspected of being associated with the New Black Panther party, said sources briefed on the arrests. The charges that were filed were intended to "take them out of the rotation," according to one source.

Neither man had a lawyer listed on court documents. The Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives played a part in the arrest.

This week, the FBI warned law enforcement agencies across the country that the decision “will likely” lead some extremist protesters to threaten and even attack police officers or federal agents.

“The announcement of the grand jury’s decision … will likely be exploited by some individuals to justify threats and attacks against law enforcement and critical infrastructure,” the FBI says in an intelligence bulletin issued in recent days. “This also poses a threat to those civilians engaged in lawful or otherwise constitutionally protected activities.”

The FBI has sent about 100 agents to the St. Louis area to help deal with any problems that could arise from the grand jury decision.

St. Louis authorities said Friday that the grand jury was still meeting. The panel will decide whether to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for shooting Brown, who was unarmed, on Aug. 9.

The FBI declined to comment on its operation in Ferguson.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency earlier this week and activated the Missouri National Guard to help keep order if necessary.

Michael Brown Sr., the father of the slain teen, issued a videotaped appeal this week for protesters to remain peaceful whatever the verdict.

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Two Men Walk Free After 40 Years in Prison for Crime They Didn't Commit


iStock/Thinkstock(CLEVELAND) -- On May 25, 1975, Ricky Jackson and Wiley Bridgeman went to jail for a murder they didn’t commit. Sentenced to death on the testimony of a single juvenile witness, the men continued to protest their innocence through years of incarceration.

On Friday, nearly 40 years later, they walked out of prison as free men after the state’s witness in the case admitted that he concocted his testimony under police intimidation.

A case suffused with emotion culminated in exoneration Friday morning, when Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Richard McMonagle formally dismissed all charges against Jackson after a brief hearing. Bridgeman, whose case was heard separately, was exonerated two hours later by Judge David Matia.

The two joined Bridgeman’s younger brother Ronnie, now known as Kwame Ajamu, who was found guilty of the same crime and eventually paroled in 2003.

The three were originally jailed for the 1975 murder of Harry Franks, a Cleveland businessman, after a 12-year-old witness named Edward Vernon told police that he had seen them attack the victim. No physical evidence linked them to the crime scene. Jackson was just 19 years old when he was sentenced to die, Wiley Bridgeman was 20, and Ronnie Bridgeman was 17.

“The English language doesn’t have words to express how I’m feeling right now,” Jackson, now 58, told reporters.

Wiley Bridgeman, now 60, quietly thanked the judge and attorneys in the courthouse as his case was dismissed. He had once been less than three weeks away from execution, rescued when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Ohio’s previous capital punishment law in 1978.

The case was a major victory for the Ohio Innocence Project, which coordinated much of the investigation into the exonerating evidence and whose staff attorney, Brian Howe, represented Jackson. Terry Gilbert and David Mills, who together represent the brothers Bridgeman and Ajamu, worked with the Innocence Project during the case.

“It’s been years in the making,” Howe told ABC News. “Literally years of work, witness interviews, tracking people down -- all that culminated on Tuesday when the state withdrew its case.”

The first domino on the path to exoneration fell in 2011, when an investigation by reporter Kyle Swenson in The Cleveland Scene, an alternative weekly magazine, cast doubt on the 1975 convictions. Later, the Ohio Innocence Project took Jackson’s case and began investigating.

“Kyle Swenson did some great investigative journalism into the case before anyone had really heard about it, way before Ed Vernon had recanted his testimony,” Howe said. “Kyle’s article was the first thing I read when I took on this case, and that really compelled me to spend those extra nights and weekends digging into it.”

Vernon was sick and in the hospital, wracked with anxiety, when his minister convinced him to come clean. Later, the Innocence Project obtained a signed affidavit in which Vernon forswore the statements he made as a boy.

Last week, Vernon, now a 52-year-old man, took to the stand to give stunning, emotional testimony recanting his childhood statements.

“He was a wreck,” McMonagle, the judge who presided over Jackson’s trial, told ABC News.

“Eddie Vernon broke down on the stand frequently during testimony,” said Gilbert. “He talked about how his life was affected by the stress, the anguish, because for all these years he was afraid that if he came forward with the truth, then he would go to prison.”

Vernon testified that he had been on a school bus when he heard the gunshot that killed Franks. As a 12-year-old, he passed on rumors he had heard to the police incriminating Jackson and the Bridgeman brothers. When he tried to back out of his account at a police lineup, he testified that officers intimidated him into giving false testimony, yelling at him and banging on a table.

“He was a kid,” Gilbert told ABC News. “He hadn’t seen them do it. The police told him that he’d go to jail, that they’d send his mother to jail if he backed out, and he was a scared kid.”

Vernon’s testimony made a powerful impression on the hearing.

Judge McMonagle said, “One of the prosecutors said later that hearing all the evidence and the recanted testimony made her physically sick, that she felt terrible.”

After the hearing, the prosecutors totally conceded, Gilbert told ABC News.

“Everybody’s human," Gilbert said, "and when you hear this story and hear this man testify, it’s like something you can’t believe.”

On Tuesday, the prosecution withdrew its case after Jackson testified before the hearing.

“We’ve had a lot of emotion in this case this week,” Howe told ABC News. “Ricky spoke on Tuesday, talking about being sentenced to death as a teenager, and we could barely get through the testimony.”

By Friday, the case’s dismissal was a formality. By noon, both Jackson and Bridgeman walked away as free men.

In 1975, Judge McMonagle’s father, George, was the judge who presided over the case when it was first tried. At 9 a.m., he dismissed the case first heard by his father almost 40 years ago.

“It means something when I think about it, since he’s been gone for a while,” the younger McMonagle told ABC News of his father, who passed away in 2002. “I’m retiring at the end of the year myself, and this is certainly something I’ll remember.”

Ajamu, previously Ronnie Bridgeman, was released on parole in 2003, but his case will soon be heard for dismissal, as well. Gilbert told ABC News that, although Ajamu's team could apply for the case to be dismissed remotely, Ajamu wanted his day in court.

“Kwame wants to hear it from a judge,” he said. “He wants to hear it from a judge that he’s a free man.”

Ajamu, who has a wife now, will temporarily host his brother Bridgeman and Jackson while they sort out their new lives as free men.

“After all this time, they don’t have a penny to their name except for the money they had in their pockets when they were jailed,” Howe said. “We’re going to help Ricky get a wardrobe, and we’re going to tackle some paperwork to get him a birth certificate, some documentation to get him ready to get a driver’s license.”

Howe added that the Ohio Innocence Project had put together a fundraising campaign on GoFundMe to help Jackson get started on his new life out of prison.

“He’s not bitter or angry,” Howe said. “He’s just really looking forward to getting on with his life. He’s excited about getting a job, driving a car. He’s just processing the facts of being a free man.”

After the hearing, Jackson told reporters that he did not bear any resentment toward Vernon after those years of imprisonment.

“He’s a grown man today,” Jackson said. “He was just a boy back then."

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