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The longest-serving inmate exonerated in U.S. history is getting $1 million from Ohio

Ricky Jackson leaving the Cleveland courthouse last year. (Kim Palmer/Reuters)

Ricky Jackson walked free last year after spending nearly four decades behind bars. He had served more time in prison than any other inmate who has been exonerated, spending more than two-thirds of his life imprisoned for a crime authorities later said he did not commit.

This week, a judge in Ohio agreed that the state owes him more than his freedom. Jackson was awarded more than $1 million in a preliminary judgment handed down on Wednesday, one meant to make up for the 14,178 days he spent as a prisoner.

Jackson and two other men were sentenced to death for shooting a man during a robbery in 1975. A 12-year-old told police that Jackson was the gunman, while brothers Wiley and Ronnie Bridgeman were also with him. They were tried separately and, ultimately, sentenced to death, though that was later commuted to life imprisonment.

Last year, Jackson and Wiley Bridgeman were both released. Ronnie Bridgeman, who is now known as Kwane Ajamu and who has been out on parole since 2003, was cleared of all charges.

The boy had grown up and, prompted by a 2011 article in Cleveland’s Scene magazine about the case, eventually said he never saw the men, recanting his earlier testimony. (He said he had tried to recant the testimony at the time, but he was intimidated by police into sticking with his story, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.) Attorneys with the Ohio Innocence Project asked for a new trial, and Jackson was eventually cleared, becoming a free man for the first time since he was 18.

[Related: One of the Ohio men convicted along with Jackson was cleared last year.]

Jackson spent 39 years, three months and nine days in prison, becoming the longest-serving inmate exonerated in the United States, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

“The air is clear and crisp, the sky is full of stars, and the amount of stimuli is amazing,” Jackson told the Cleveland Plain Dealer last month. “All the noise, the smells, the hustle and bustle was so overpowering. I was elated. It gave me a whole new outlook on the world.”

Jackson said he had forgiven the young boy because he “saw the toll this case had taken on him.”

A record 125 people were exonerated nationwide last year, the National Registry of Exonerations reported.

Prosecutors in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, had said they would not fight attempts by Jackson, Ajamu and Bridgeman to seek more than $4.1 million dollars for their wrongful imprisonment.

And the money awarded to Jackson is not the end of what he can receive. A wrongfully imprisoned person in Ohio can be awarded more than $40,000 for every year spent in prison under Ohio state law — or an adjusted amount. In 2010, after some people had to wait for several months or longer for payment, the state altered the law so that these people can be paid more quickly, making it so that they can get half of their eventual compensation much sooner.

As a result, the $1 million awarded to Jackson represents half of the eventual money that an auditor determined he is owed, Judge Patrick M. McGrath of the Ohio Court of Claims wrote in his filing.

The two brothers have also requested compensation, and a hearing is scheduled for next month to help determine how much money they are owed.