When Rickey Jackson’s murder conviction was overturned in 2014, he had served the longest prison term of any innocent person in United States history. His story, and that of the two other young men who were convicted with him in 1975, is told in “Good Kids, Bad City: A Story of Race and Wrongful Conviction in America” by Cleveland native Kyle Swenson.
Ronnie Bridgeman was 17 years old and was responsible for taking his younger nieces and nephews to school in the morning. He often played chess with his friend Rickey, and he idolized his older brother Wiley. On May 19, 1975, a white man named Harry Franks went to Fairmount Cut-Rate grocery, on his route to pick up money order receipts. He approached the door and two young men attacked him. They threw some acid in his face and shot him. They also shot the shop owner’s wife, who survived. They took Franks’ briefcase, got into a waiting car and fled.
Ronny, Rickey and two friends were walking to a different store when they heard about the shooting. Curious, they changed directions and walked to the Cut-Rate. After observing the scene, they left. When a police officer asked the remaining crowd for any witnesses, a 12-year-old boy, Eddie Vernon, spoke up.
Eddie’s statement was full of contradictions and was countered by that of a neighborhood girl who said she had seen two other men outside the store. The only actual evidence was the cup that had held the acid, and it disappeared. The men were convicted and sentenced to death, but two years later, their sentences were commuted to life in prison.
After an introduction and a background of Cleveland racial issues in the 20th century, author Swenson enters the story about halfway through the book. Ronnie Bridgeman had taken advantage of education programs in prison, converted to Islam and took the name Kwame Abuja. He contacted Swenson, then a reporter at Cleveland’s Scene weekly newspaper, for help exonerating him and the other two men. That would depend on persuading Eddie Vernon to recant his testimony.
“Good Kids, Bad City” (304 pages, hardcover) costs $29 from Picador. Kyle Swenson will make several Northeast Ohio appearances in February. He is a reporter for the Washington Post; he previously worked for the New Times Broward-Palm Beach.
More than a friendship is in danger in “Forget You Know Me,” a psychological thriller by Cincinnati author Jessica Strawser. Lifelong friends Molly and Liza have been separated by distance since Liza moved to Chicago, leaving married Molly behind.
This night, they’ve planned a video “girls’ night”; with Molly’s husband, Daniel, out of town on business and her two children tucked in bed, they’re going to drink wine and chat online, mostly about Liza’s string of undesirable dates. They might also talk about Molly’s chronic pain, including a slipped disk, migraines and arthritis in her knees.
Before they can get started, though, Molly’s 3-year-old daughter is calling from upstairs and will not be ignored. Molly leaves the webcam on and goes up to tend to Nori. As Liza looks absently at her screen, a man dressed in black, wearing a ski mask, comes into view and walks toward the stairs. Liza screams at him through the microphone, ordering him to leave and telling him she’s calling the police. She can’t reach Molly on the phone, and a text is returned with only the briefest of replies. The Cincinnati police report no sign of an intruder.
Liza isn’t convinced. Molly had been acting peculiarly before; her manner had seemed phony. Liza makes a decision: She calls a friend, Max, who agrees to drive her from Chicago to Cincinnati. When she arrives, Molly won’t let her in the house — her best friend, who’s driven half the night to check on her welfare. Molly tells Liza “It’s not a good time” and closes the door.
There are so many questions: about Rick, the widowed neighbor Molly visits, about bills Molly has been hiding from her husband. Complications multiply.
“Forget You Know Me” (336 pages, hardcover) costs $27.99 from St. Martin’s Press. Jessica Strawser is editor-at-large at Writer’s Digest. Her 2017 debut was “Almost Missed You.”
Twinsburg Public Library (10050 Ravenna Road): Claire McMillan, author of “Gilded Age” and “The Necklace,” is the special guest at the 2019 50-Book Challenge Party, 7 to 8 p.m. Monday. Register at twinsburglibrary.org.
Cuyahoga County Public Library (Berea branch, 7 Berea Commons): Laura DeMarco presents her pictorial history “Cleveland Then and Now,” 7 to 8 p.m. Thursday. Register at 440-234-5475.
Advance notice: These two events are sure to sell out. Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin discusses “In a House of Lies,” 22nd in his series about Edinburgh Detective Inspector Rebus, on Feb. 8 at the South-Euclid-Lyndhurst branch of Cuyahoga County Public Library; bestselling thriller author Lisa Gardner will talk about her new novel “Never Tell” on Feb. 22 at the Parma-Snow branch. Register at cuyahogalibrary.org.
Send information about books of local interest to Lynne Sherwin, Features Department, Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309 or email@example.com. Event notices should be sent at least two weeks in advance.