CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - They had spent nearly two decades locked up and have been out of prison for more than a year, but the prospect of going back behind bars hung over them like a storm cloud.
Monday, that cloud was lifted for the men known as the 'East Cleveland Three'; Eugene Johnson, Derrick Wheatt and Laurese Glover.
It happened as Judge Nancy Margaret Russo accepted an agreement between the men's lawyers and county prosecutors.
She said simply "you're all free to go".
Applause broke out in the courtroom.
The case had been set for a new trial before Judge Russo after a key witness became unsure of her identification of the men.
Prosecutors knew their chances of a new conviction were lessening so negotiations began. Something applauded by the Judge who told both sides, "This isn't about one side or the other winning, it is about justice winning."
But can there ever be true justice for three men robbed of their youth?
Eugene Johnson said, "This is the longest I've ever been on the street since I was 15 years old so I'm just tryin to get a piece of mind, take one day at a time, livin my life."
Derrick Wheatt added, "We always believed in our innocence, our families always believed in it, just kept fightin."
The men had known since last Wednesday that this would be the likely resolution, making for sleepless nights according to Laurese Glover.
"I don't think I had no sleep since you know, couple hours here and there. We just anxious for this day to come, it finally came," Glover said.
Left unspoken was the role of former Prosecutor Carmen Marino who in the past the Judge has criticized for withholding evidence that might have cleared the men at trial.
In May of this year, the Eighth District Court of Appeals ruled that the men should get a new trial. A motion was filed in June to dismiss all charges.
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