CLEVELAND — A federal judge wrongly dismissed lawsuits filed by three men who spent decades in prison over a murder in Cleveland they did not commit, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday.

The judges in Cincinnati concluded that Rickey Jackson, 62, Kwame Ajamu, 61, and Wiley Bridgeman, 64, can pursue civil rights claims that Cleveland police detectives fabricated evidence, engaged in malicious prosecution and withheld exculpatory evidence at their trials in 1975.

"We couldn't have had a better outcome," said attorney Terry Gilbert, who represents Ajamu and Bridgeman, who are brothers. "It is a tremendous victory for justice for three men whose lives were destroyed by the Cleveland Police Department. They now have a chance of holding them accountable."

Jackson's attorney, Elizabeth Wang, said: "Rickey Jackson just wants his day in court. He's going to get it now."

City spokesman Dan Williams said Cleveland is disappointed with the appellate court's decision and is evaluating its options.

Along with Cleveland, a long-retired detective and three detectives who are dead are named as defendants in the lawsuits filed in 2015.

Bridgeman and Jackson were released from prison in November 2014. Ajamu was paroled in 2003. Jackson spent 39 years in prison, Bridgeman 37 years and Ajamu 25 years. The Ohio Court of Claims in 2016 awarded the men millions of dollars for wrongful imprisonment.

All three men received death sentences that were later commuted to life terms.