Friday, March 20, 2015

This Is What It Comes To

This is what it comes to.

They sent him to death row, but Glenn Ford didn't kill Isadore Rozeman.  Andrew Cohen, last month, for the Marshall Project.
You probably don’t remember Glenn Ford or his remarkable story of injustice and redemption. Eleven months ago, he walked out of a Louisiana penitentiary after spending 30 years on death row for a murder he did not commit. He was able to do so only after a new generation of prosecutors finally acknowledged in court what their predecessors knew or should have known all along: that there was “credible evidence” that Ford “was neither present at, nor a participant in, the robbery and murder” of Isadore Rozeman, an elderly jeweler who was shot to death in Shreveport on November 5, 1983.
Ford, a black man, was swiftly convicted by an all-white jury in 1984 for Rozeman’s murder but the case against him was always weak. His trial lawyers were uniquely unqualified to represent him in a capital case. The most important eyewitness for prosecutors later confessed she had lied about Ford’s involvement in the murder. The murder weapon was never found. The forensic evidence pointed away from Ford, who early on identified the two likely killers, and on top of that the coroner delivered flawed testimony. But for 30 years, as Ford’s case toggled back and forth between state and federal courts, no judge deemed any of this prejudicial enough to rescue the condemned man, who maintained his innocence the whole time.
This is what it comes to.
30 years on death row.  30 years ripped away from his life, really from any life.  
This is what it comes to.
They discovered in 2011 that Ford had cancer.  They didn't tell him.  They didn't send him to an oncologist.  Stage 3 when he got out and actually got a diagnosis.  Stage 4 now.  Doctors are giving him months.  Maybe 3.  Maybe 8.  Less than a year.
This is what it comes to.
Louisiana allows compensation in some cases.  $25,000 a year.  Maximum $250,000.  Ford wants it. The current prosecutor in Caddo Parish, the one who helped cut him loose, opposes that.  The Louisiana AG does, too.  We didn't do anything wrong, they say.  Bad luck, they say.  Besides Ford might still be guilty, they say.   No flies on us, they say.  Bastards, I say.
This is what it comes to.
Marty Stroud was the lead prosecutor who put Ford on the row.  He wrote about it in the Shreveport Times.  
Had I been more inquisitive, perhaps the evidence would have come to light years ago. But I wasn't, and my inaction contributed to the miscarriage of justice in this matter. Based on what we had, I was confident that the right man was being prosecuted and I was not going to commit resources to investigate what I considered to be bogus claims that we had the wrong man.
My mindset was wrong and blinded me to my purpose of seeking justice, rather than obtaining a conviction of a person who I believed to be guilty. I did not hide evidence, I simply did not seriously consider that sufficient information may have been out there that could have led to a different conclusion. And that omission is on me.
Furthermore, my silence at trial undoubtedly contributed to the wrong-headed result.
I did not question the unfairness of Mr. Ford having appointed counsel who had never tried a criminal jury case much less a capital one. It never concerned me that the defense had insufficient funds to hire experts or that defense counsel shut down their firms for substantial periods of time to prepare for trial. These attorneys tried their very best, but they were in the wrong arena. They were excellent attorneys with experience in civil matters. But this did not prepare them for trying to save the life of Mr. Ford.
The jury was all white, Mr. Ford was African-American. Potential African-American jurors were struck with little thought about potential discrimination because at that time a claim of racial discrimination in the selection of jurors could not be successful unless it could be shown that the office had engaged in a pattern of such conduct in other cases.
And I knew this was a very burdensome requirement that had never been met in the jurisprudence of which I was aware. I also participated in placing before the jury dubious testimony from a forensic pathologist that the shooter had to be left handed, even though there was no eye witness to the murder. And yes, Glenn Ford was left handed.
All too late, I learned that the testimony was pure junk science at its evil worst.
This is what it comes to.
In 1984, I was 33 years old. I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning. To borrow a phrase from Al Pacino in the movie "And Justice for All," "Winning became everything."
After the death verdict in the Ford trial, I went out with others and celebrated with a few rounds of drinks. That's sick. I had been entrusted with the duty to seek the death of a fellow human being, a very solemn task that certainly did not warrant any "celebration."
This is what it comes to.


  1. I almost feel sorry for Stroud.

    But if I did, I'd have to feel sorry for the dozens or hundreds of prosecutors I've known who thought (and still think, mostly) just like he did when he prosecuted Ford. I'm not sure I can do that.

    1. Unlike those prosecutors, he's learned.

      And, I'm given to understand that he now works forcefully on the other side of the courtroom, has spent years working on behalf of death row inmates.

      And, I should add, you can feel sorry for him without feeling sorry for those who refuse to own up to what they did, who insist that they can't have made a mistake, who fight to maintain wrongful convictions and death sentences improperly secured.

      But, of course, your feelings are whatever they are.

    2. I know, but I just can't get past the notion that everything he knows now, he knew then. He just ignored it then.

      Maybe I should reflect some more on your theories of mercy and grace. I can be a vindictive bastard sometimes.