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Too Little, Too Late: Prosecutor Remorseful for Sending Innocent Man to Death Row

The district attorney who prosecuted Glenn Ford, a Louisiana man exonerated after spending 30 years on death row, called capital punishment “an abomination that continues to scar the fibers of this society.” That statement was made in a column expressing remorse for his role in convicting an innocent defendant.

Ford, 64, was charged with the November 5, 1983 murder of a Shreveport jeweler during a robbery. In late 2013, credible evidence came to the attention of prosecutors “supporting a finding that Glenn Ford was neither present at nor a participant in the robbery and murder of Isadore Rozeman.” He was released from prison on March 10, 2014 and given a $20.04 debit card by prison officials.

Under Louisiana law, Ford was entitled to $330,000 in compensation for his wrongful conviction. However, a state court judge denied compensation, stating Ford likely had a role in the robbery that resulted in Rozeman’s death as he was in possession of items taken during the robbery.

“I can take no comfort in such an argument,” wrote A.M. “Marty” Shroud III, the lead prosecutor at Ford’s trial, in a March 2015 column published in the Shreveport Times. “As a prosecutor and officer of the court, I had the duty to prosecute fairly. While I could properly strike hard blows, ethically I could not strike foul ones.”

Shroud admitted he had been too passive in his duty to investigate “rumors about the involvement of parties other than Mr. Ford,” because he was “confident that the right man was being prosecuted.”

While he did not hide evidence, he did not seriously consider information that could have led to a different conclusion at trial. He also “did not question the unfairness of Mr. Ford having an appointed counsel who had never tried a criminal jury case much less a capital one.” Ford, who was black, was tried by an all-white jury after the prosecution removed black jurors using preemptory strikes.

Finally, Shroud had allowed the admission of “testimony from a forensic pathologist that the shooter had to be left handed, even though there was no eyewitness to the murder.” Ford was left handed. “All too late, I learned that the testimony was pure junk science at its evil worst,” Shroud stated.

At the time of the trial, the former prosecutor said he was “arrogantly judgmental, narcissistic, and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning.”

He wrote that he was sickened that he had mocked Ford’s protestations of innocence and went out with others for a “celebration” after the death penalty verdict. He apologized to Ford, the Rozeman family, the jury and the court for his contribution to the “wrong-headed result.”

Ford, he said, “deserves every penny owed to him under the compensation statute.” The wrongful conviction had resulted in his spending “30 years of his life in a small, dingy cell. His surroundings were dire. Lighting was poor, heating and cooling were almost non-existent, food bordered on the uneatable. No one wanted to be accused of ‘coddling’ a death row inmate.”

In conclusion, Shroud wrote that society is “simply incapable of devising a system that can fairly and impartially impose a sentence of death because we are all too fallible human beings.” He added, “The clear reality is that the death penalty is an anathema to a society that purports to call itself civilized,” and until this “barbaric penalty” is outlawed, we “will live in a land that condones state assisted revenge and that is not justice in any form or fashion.”

Shroud’s change of heart and advocacy for compensation for Ford came a little too late. Around three months after the former prosecutor’s apologetic column was published, on June 29, 2015, Ford died of lung cancer. He never received compensation for his wrongful conviction and three decades on death row.

Ford had been diagnosed with cancer prior to his release from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola; during his last months, he had been engaged in a federal civil suit in which he alleged he received inadequate medical treatment while incarcerated.

As for Shroud’s apology, Ford could offer no absolution. In a meeting facilitated by ABC’s Nightline, Ford told his former courtroom adversary, “I’m sorry, I can’t forgive you.”

Ford had petitioned for, and been denied, compensation. Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell successfully argued that while Ford had been cleared of murdering Rozeman, he was not “factually innocent” because he had some responsibility for the murder, given that he was involved in, or had knowledge of, the robbery that led to Rozeman’s death.

In April 2016, Ford’s family’s appeal of the denial of compensation was rejected by a Louisiana appellate court. Again, the legal definition of “factual innocence” stood at the heart of the decision.

In a concurring opinion, Judge D. Milton Moore wrote that Ford had been unable to clearly establish his factual innocence of “any crime” as required by statute, but added the “Legislature’s failure to clearly define and limit the scope of the ‘any crimes’ element so constrains the class of wrongfully convicted persons eligible for compensation that it leads to inequitable judgments.” See: State v. Ford, 193 So.3d 1242 (La.App. 2 Cir. 2016), on rehearing.

In May 2016, lawmakers in Louisiana’s House of Representatives held a committee meeting to discuss a proposed piece of legislation that would alter the statutory definition of factual innocence.

In essence, the bill, HB 1116, introduced by state Rep. Cedric Glover, would change the latter part of the existing definition of factual innocence from a defendant who did not commit the crime for which he was convicted and incarcerated, nor “any crime based upon the same set of facts used in his original conviction,” to “a crime defined in law as a lesser included offense of the crime for which he was convicted.”

The proposed legislation remains pending.

Sources: www.shreveporttimes.com, www.slate.com, www.theatlantic.com, www.atlantablackstar.com

Related legal case

State v. Ford


 

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