CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Kwame Ajamu, 62, spent 28 years on death row for a murder he didn’t commit.
Despite finally being released in 2003 and awarded over two and a half million dollars for wrongful imprisonment, there’s an unanswered question that haunts him to this very day.
“I would like to know why. It’s always been a mystery to me about why we were selected as the three individuals who would be scapegoats for this case,” says Ajamu.
In 1975 Ajamu, his brother Wiley, and a third teenager Ricky Jackson were arrested, convicted, and sentenced to death for the murder of a Cleveland money order salesman.
Three decades of their lives stolen based on the testimony of another teenager who now says that police coerced him to lie.
Believing the answers may be buried deep in the files of the Cleveland Police Department Ajamu, his attorney, and the Ohio Innocence Project have filed public records requests for the documents. To this date, they’ve received nothing.
“Zilch. They’re not saying anything. They’re being very closed mouth yea,” Ajamu says.
That is an all too common story in Cleveland.
Last month, as Cleveland 19 launched our investigation, we tried to get answers from Mayor Frank Jackson about continuing complaints over the city’s notoriously slow responses to public requests.
In another murder case, we discovered a private investigator waited over 277-days for routine records about police calls to a local address.
“277-days is long, but I don’t know the particular case,’ Mayor Jackson told us at the time.
Case Western Reserve Law Professor Andrew Geronimo says what has to change isn’t just Cleveland’s attitude about public record requests, but Ohio’s law which gives the public only one option. Going to court.
“Cleveland has long had a reputation of not fulfilling public record requests. I think public offices count on it. Count on people forgetting their public record requests. There needs to be more teeth in the law in terms of enforcement. In terms of penalties for non-compliance,” says Geronimo.
A federal appeals court now says Ajamu and the others can sue the city to get the answers they’re seeking. Ajamu says he’s going to keep pressing. Not only for himself but also for the family of the salesman murdered in 1975 who, Ajamu says, also has the right to know what police were thinking.
As for the murder case we asked Mayor Jackson about where a private investigator waited 277-days for routine police records. Robert Slattery says a funny thing happened the day after our original story aired.
“We waited 277-days for four pages. The next day after the story aired, we got in excess of 100-pages and documents to us satisfying the two pending requests I had through the city,” says Slattery.