The Age Of Light
Whitney Scharer
Contributed by Elene Blackwelder
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Chapter 6

In this chapter, Swenson details Ed Vernon’s life — from the time he acted as the state’s key witness, to two decades later when he coincidentally met Wiley Bridgeman, who had just been released on parole. Swenson describes Vernon’s struggles with drug addiction as well as a guilty conscience.

Vernon’s problems began right from the moment he was testifying in the first trials. During this period, the twelve-year-old would be locked away by detectives in a hotel room, where he rarely got visits from parents and friends. His mother was fighting a bout of cervical cancer, rendering her immobile; while his father worked two shifts a day. When the trials finally ended in October 1975, Detective Eugene Terpay informed Vernon’s parents that his life was in danger and he had to be relocated to a secret location under witness protection. Ed was moved to live with his uncle in Princeton, New Jersey, and leaving behind his parents and friends. Swenson explains how Ed would live in fear of “being discovered, or being killed” in addition to always feeling homesick (Swenson, 2019, p. 104). Detective Terpay would constantly remind him, through phone calls, that his life was still in danger. When he was called for Wiley’s second retrial, he met a few of his former classmates and neighbors in Cleveland who clearly knew that he had lied throughout the trials, something that devastated him further.

Swenson describes how guilt and fear soon led Ed into abusing alcohol, the use of marijuana, and finally crack cocaine; a witness battling these addictions for seventeen years while taking odd jobs at construction sites. He rarely bathed and fellow construction workers would occasionally mock him over his “musty smell”. He had no house and would sleep on the streets. Sometimes, his sister would allow him to sleep in a broken-down car in her parking space. In the mid-1990s, he was arrested for smuggling drugs and was sentenced to a four-year prison term. While in prison, he lived in fear of coming across Ronnie, Rickey, or Wiley — which forced him to contemplate suicide. He would serve two years, mostly in isolation, on suicide watch.

After being released, Ed joined a City Mission rehabilitation program, which was when he began to turn his life around. However, Swenson explains how his counselors could see something else — other than the drug problem — was still bothering him; yet, he would refuse to talk about it. While working as a security guard at the front desk intake of the City Mission, Ed met Wiley Bridgeman, who had just been released on parole. Ed would eventually reveal his identity to Wiley, begging to be forgiven for falsely testifying against the three men. Wiley suggested that they should call the newsrooms and the press, but Ed refused. Wiley would later be placed back into prison after an argument with his parole officer over his place of residence.


Swenson expresses how Ed’s guilty conscience for falsely testifying against Ronnie, Rickey, and Wiley ate into him decades after the trials. The author describes the woes that befell Ed immediately after he agreed to act as the prosecutor’s witness, of which lasted for almost two decades. Firstly, Ed was a child when he was enlisted as a witness; in all likelihood, he neither knew or understood what that had truly meant for him. During the trials, which lasted over three months, Ed was made to stay in a hotel room and isolated from the outside world. After the trials, the boy was forced to leave his parents and friends behind after Detective Eugene Terpay warned that his life was in danger. Through this narration, the author evokes sympathy for the young boy — who further suggests that it is probable he had been threatened, which explains why he refused to tell the truth until much later.

Swenson describes how Ed delved into drug addiction in a bid to erase his guilty conscience. Drugs would later steal two decades of his life — just as he stole over two decades from the lives of Ronnie, Rickey, and Wiley. At some point, the addiction led him to being imprisoned, an experience which made him contemplate suicide. Swenson implies that the guilty conscience is the main reason Ed fails to find peace, forcing him into drug addiction and have suicidal thoughts.

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