The Age Of Light
Whitney Scharer
Contributed by Elene Blackwelder
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Chapter 5

In this chapter, Swenson accounts Ronnie, Rickey, and Wiley’s experiences during their incarceration. He also recounts Wiley’s retrial, which took place two years after his first conviction. After their sentencing, the three young men were to be held at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio, to await their execution. Swenson explains that the three would each be confined in single cells where they would be locked up for twenty-three hours each day. Wiley would spend most of his time reading and writing; he would “write poems, short stories, and letters - addressed to journalists, politicians, attorneys, and other condemned men and women” (Swenson, 2019, p. 90). Rickey spent his days exercising vigorously. As for Ronnie, he had to deal with bouts of anxiety that occasionally hit him. He could still not understand how the state could condemn him to death over something he had not done. Most of his time was spent praying to, as well as questioning, God.

In April 1977, Wiley was awarded a retrial and was taken back to Cleveland for a hearing. His attorneys, Jerry Milano and Daniel McCarthy, appealed for a reconsideration of his case arguing that Judge John C. Bacon had erred when issuing instructions to the jurors tasked with deciding Wiley’s guilt or innocence. The higher court decided that, indeed, “Bacon’s bungled wording had incorrectly assumed that elements of the crime had already been proven”. Wiley’s attorneys set out a three-pronged defense: to present an alibi for Wiley; water down Ed Vernon’s credibility as a witness; and question the lack of physical evidence linking the defendant to the crime. Wiley had also learned from his family that a new witness, Angela Bennett, had claimed to have seen the actual getaway car, both during and after the crime having taken place (around Arthur Avenue). However, Wiley’s attorneys decided it was not worthwhile to factor in Bennett into the retrial.

During the retrial, the attorneys revealed that the only piece of evidence on the scene, a paper cup, had gone missing. When police were asked about it, they could not explain how it got lost. Ed Vernon, now fifteen, admitted he had received fifty dollars during the first trials from Robert Robinson, the owner of the store at which Mr. Frank was killed. The defendant’s attorneys argued this could have been a bribe to have him name the defendants. Despite several inconsistencies in Vernon’s second testimony, the jury still found Wiley guilty on all accounts. Wiley was sent back to prison and his execution date set for July 3, 1978. In October 1977, the US Supreme Court ruled that the Ohio statute on the death penalty was unconstitutional under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. As a result, all death sentences were converted to life imprisonment.


Swenson describes how the three young men tried to deal with the experience of finding themselves in prison for a crime that they did not commit. Swenson showcases the emotional torture the condemned inmates underwent, having been kept in solitary confinement for twenty-three hours a day. Swenson also uses Wiley’s retrial to cast doubt on the credibility of the jurors’ decisions. Despite Wiley’s attorneys showcasing inconsistencies in Vernon’s account and questioning the lack of physical evidence to link the defendant to the crime, the jurors went ahead to declare Wiley guilty for a second time based on the inconsistent testimony of a fifteen-year-old boy. Swenson is of the perception that the only piece of physical evidence on the scene, a paper cup, was deliberately destroyed by the police, as it would have helped to prove the defendants’ innocence. At the same time, he insinuates the possibility of the young witness being corrupted by the fifty dollars he received from Mr. Robinson — encouraging him to pin the murder on the three innocent young men.

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