Innocents: One Man, Two Death Sentences
This is an ongoing series telling the stories of wrongful convictions in North America. Some of these stories contain content that may disturb some of you, so if you’re at all squeamish, don’t read them. To read more of these stories, please click here. If you have a story of someone wrongfully convicted, or you were yourself and want to talk about it, please email me at email@example.com. See my two previous series on the American Justice System, The Ultimate Price and Reasonable Doubt.
Glenn Ford was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. He’d barely begun his thirties when his boss was murdered during a robbery. It was quick… a single shot to the head and the jewelry store was cleared out. Mr. Ford was in the area, having finished a shift of yard work for Mr. Isadore Rozeman, the murder victim and jeweller. Ford had a gun on him. The neighbours said they'd seen him around. So, he was arrested.
Witnesses came forward to name two other suspects in the crime. This testimony held that Glenn Ford was not involved. The eager detectives and prosecution just wanted a win under their belt and kept this testimony to themselves. During jury selection, they dismissed all the African American jurors, leaving the trial of a black man for a murder of a white man in a primarily black neighbourhood, to be heard by an all-white jury.
You don’t really need much more information than that to know what happened next, do you? Glenn Ford was sentenced to death by electric chair.
For the next 30 years, Glenn Ford made his home at Angola prison, the notorious home of Louisiana’s death row. Haunted by his own impending death, his health deteriorated as he endured day in and day out in solitude, cemented in with very little natural light and hot, humid summers for which there was no relief. He was cut off from his family, his friends. He was cut off from the outside world. He was cut off from reality.
Not one decade… not two, but 3 decades later stories began to change. New testimony was brought forward that implicated two men who were not Ford, and finally, the eyewitness who sealed the deal for Ford 30 years prior admitted she lied on the stand – hardly a surprise as she was the girlfriend of another suspect in the case.
Ford was 64 when he was finally exonerated and released from death row as the longest-serving exoneree in American history. His doctors on the outside were quick to diagnose stage three lung cancer, suggesting that perhaps the illness could have been caught earlier. Ford was sure the prison medical staff had caught it but didn’t want to appear as though they were coddling a death row inmate.
Awaiting death a second time around, Ford tried to adjust to the outside world unsuccessfully. Everything he was able to do was thanks to the organization, Resurrection After Exoneration. Housing, clothes, food… they took care of it. He eventually required caregivers, and even then, he couldn’t trust his own mind. He went missing one night after wandering off. They found him trudging around the French Quarter of New Orleans, confused and tired. Just over a month later, in June 2015, Glenn Ford passed away from his illness, just hours short of being able to testify in a hearing set up to explore just how constitutional the death penalty really is.
A couple of months before he died, Glenn Ford’s trial lawyer, Marty Stroud, wrote a 1500 word letter to the Shreveport Times that served as both an apology to Ford and a plea on Ford’s behalf for the state to consider giving the ailing man some form of compensation.
Glenn Ford should be completely compensated to every extent possible because of the flaws of a system that effectively destroyed his life. The audacity of the state’s effort to deny Mr. Ford any compensation for the horrors he suffered in the name of Louisiana justice is appalling.
I know of what I speak.
I was at the trial of Glenn Ford from beginning to end.
Explaining that he was Ford’s trial lawyer, he goes on to say,
There was no technicality here. Crafty lawyering did not secure the release of a criminal. Mr. Ford spent 30 years of his life in a small, dingy cell… At the time this case was tried there was evidence that would have cleared Glenn Ford… my silence at trial undoubtedly contributed to the wrong-headed result.
His explanation for his inaction:
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.”
His heartfelt apology:
I apologize to Glenn Ford for all the misery I have caused him and his family.
I apologize to the family of Mr. Rozeman for giving them the false hope of some closure.
I apologize to the members of the jury for not having all of the story that should have been disclosed to them.
I apologize to the court in not having been more diligent in my duty to ensure that proper disclosures of any exculpatory evidence had been provided to the defense.
Mr. Stroud touches on one of the most overlooked consequences of a wrongful conviction. Not only did Ford lose half of his life to death row, but the family of the victim thought they had closure over 30 years ago. Now, 3 decades of healing gone, and the wound is torn open again. In the name of their lost loved one, another man has been victimized while the real killers were free to roam. Not only has justice not been served, it’s opened the door of opportunity to more crime, more pain, more suffering and more victims. The justice system is supposed to serve the people, not victimize them over and over and over. It’s supposed to be the route to healing, growth and progress… not torture.
This is an ongoing series telling the stories of wrongful convictions in North America. To read more of these stories, please click here. If you have a story of someone wrongfully convicted, or you were yourself and want to talk about it, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. See my two previous series on the American Justice System, The Ultimate Price and Reasonable Doubt.
Help fight the epidemic of wrongful convictions in America by supporting the Innocence Project: Get Involved.
If you have a story of someone wrongfully convicted, or you were yourself and want to talk about it, please email me at email@example.com