Three Men Who Spent Two Decades in Prison for a Murder They Didn't Commit Just Got $5 Million Each

File Photo: The trio were convicted the following year but stressed their innocence. After their sentence was overturned in 2015 they were released and filed legal action against Cuyahoga County. iStock

Three East Cleveland men who were wrongly convicted and spent nearly 20 years in prison for murder were this week awarded $5 million each by a jury in Ohio.

Local media outlet reported the district court on Thursday found that two former East Cleveland police officers—Vincent Johnstone and Michael Perry—had violated the civil rights of defendants Laurese Glover, 40, Eugene Johnson, 40, and Derrick Wheatt, 41.

According to the news website, Wheatt said he felt "vindicated" by the trial's outcome and Glover said it had been "the next best thing to walking out of the county jail." The trio alleged detectives had withheld crucial police documents and also coerced a teenage witness.

Allegations against a third detective, D.J. Miklovich, were dismissed by the judge.

The victim of the 1995 murder was Clifton Hudson Jr., 19. The trio were sentenced the following year but stressed their innocence. After their conviction was overturned in 2015 they were released and filed legal action against Cuyahoga County, police and ex-prosecutors.

Earlier this year, the County settled the case for $4.5 million in total, reported. The fresh court hearing kicked off on Tuesday and was overseen by U.S. District Judge James Gwin. Michael Pasternak, a lawyer for the three men, claimed the police detectives had conducted "callous, shoddy and reckless police work." The officers had denied any wrongdoing.

The witness the officers had allegedly coerced during their initial investigation in 1995 was 14-year-old girl Tamika Harris, who initially said the men were involved in the murder but "recanted her testimony in 2004," reported. Willa Hemmons, an attorney representing the detectives, claimed they had worked "meticulously and thoroughly."

The imprisoned men—known as the "East Cleveland Three"—were successfully freed after two decades with help from the University of Cincinnati's Ohio Innocence Project (OIP).

Its lawyers obtained documents in 2014 shedding new light on the case.

They revealed that the victim and his brother, Derek Bufford, had been threatened days before the murder and at one point were shot at. The unearthed documents also revealed that when shown images of Glover, Johnson and Wheatt the brother had denied any were the gunman, according to analysis of the case published by the University of California.

The lawyers also found a letter penned by a Cuyahoga County prosecutor Carmen Marino in 1998 that said "none of the police reports in the case were to be disclosed to defense lawyers for Glover, Wheatt and Johnson," according to the National Registry of Exonerations project.

Upon appeal, a judge ruled: "A review of the evidence firmly supports the conclusion that Carmen Marino maliciously inserted himself into a criminal proceeding, and that he also sought to suppress evidence from the defendants, that he concealed public records from the citizenry, and that he subverted the process of justice." The findings led to the trio's 2015 prison release.