Death row inmate Glenn Ford released 30 years after wrongful conviction

Ford was released on the order of a judge in Shreveport after Louisiana state prosecutors indicated they could no longer stand by his conviction. In late 2013 the state notified Ford’s lawyers that a confidential informant had come forward with new information implicating another man who had been among four co-defendants originally charged in the case.

He was sentenced to death in 1984 for the murder the previous November of Isadore Rozeman, an older white man who ran a Shreveport jewellery and watch repair shop. The defendant had worked as an odd jobs man for Rozeman. In interviews with police Ford said that he had been asked to pawn a .38 revolver and some jewellery similar to that taken from Rozeman’s shop at the time of the murder by another man who was among the initial suspects.

Asked as he walked away from the prison gates about his release, Ford told WAFB-TV, “It feels good; my mind is going in all kind of directions. It feels good.”

Ford said he did harbour some resentment at being wrongly jailed: “Yeah, cause I’ve been locked up almot 30 years for something I didn’t do.

“I can’t go back and do anything I should have been doing when I was 35, 38, 40 stuff like that.”

Dr Phillip Rozeman, nephew of the victim, told the Shreveport Times said that district attorney’s office had alerted the family in advance that new evidence had been obtained that, had it been available 30 years ago, might have had an impact on the verdict or death sentence. “We understand that and actually believe the DA is acting honourably. This is positive reflection on the criminal justice system that does the right thing for people.”

Ford’s conviction bears all the hallmarks of the glaring inconsistencies and inadequacies of the US justice system that are repeatedly found in cases of exoneration. The fact that despite serious qualms among top judges about his conviction this innocent man was kept on death row for so long is certain to be seized upon by anti-death penalty campaigners.

Among the many all too typical problems with his prosecution was the composition of the jury. An African American, Ford was sentenced to death by a jury that had been carefully selected by prosecutors to be exclusively white.

His legal representation at trial was woefully inexperienced. The lead defence counsel was a specialist in the law relating to oil and gas exploration and had never tried a case in front of a jury; the second attorney was two years out of law school and working at the time of the trial on small automobile accident insurance cases.

At the trial the state was unable to call any eyewitnesses to the crime, nor was it able to produce a murder weapon. Instead Ford was convicted largely on the testimony of a witness who was not a detached observer – she was the girlfriend of another man initially suspected of the murder.

Under cross-examination the witness, Marvella Brown, admitted in front of the jury that she had given false testimony. “I did lie to the court… I lied about it all,” she said.

In another classic element frequently found in exoneration cases, cod science provided by “expert” witnesses also helped to put Ford on death row. One such expert testified that the evidence pointed to the defendant because he was left-handed; another expert told the jury that particles of gunshot residue had been found on his hand; and a third talked about fingerprint evidence implicating him.

The testimony from all three expert witnesses was later shown to have been at best inconclusive, at worst wrong.

Ford continued to profess his innocence throughout the 30 years. In the appeal process that ensued, the Louisiana supreme court, the state’s highest legal panel, acknowledged that the evidence against him was “not overwhelming” and that the prosecution case was open to “serious questions”, yet it decided to keep him on death row.

More recently it emerged that state prosecutors had failed to disclose evidence to Ford’s legal team that could have been crucial in his defence. It included evidence from confidential informants pointing the finger at Ford’s co-defendants, who faced initial charges that were then dismissed as the prosecution bore down against the wrong man.

In a statement Ford’s current lawyers, Gary Clements and Aaron Novod, said they were pleased by the exoneration. “We are particularly grateful that the prosecution and the court moved ahead so decisively to set Mr Ford free.”

Ford becomes the 144th death row inmate to be exonerated over the past four decades, underlining the perils of innocent people being sent to their deaths in America’s capital punishment system. Yet despite such warning, several states such as AlabamaCaliforniaFlorida andMissouri have taken recent steps to speed up the process of executions and whittle down the recourse to appeals in a way that had such expedition applied in Ford’s case would already have seen him put to death.

Richard Dieter, an authority on capital punishment at the Death Penalty Information Center, said that Ford’s case “painfully reveals the fallibility of the death penalty and the risks we take with every death sentence. Some states are trying to speed up executions instead of addressing the underlying problems that have led to such mistakes.”

David Love, executive director of Witness to Innocence, an organisation of exonerated death row survivors and their loved ones, said that attempts to speed up the time from conviction to death showed that for some politicians “it’s more important to have finality than to have justice. I believe that’s a misguided approach. As we see more and more innocent people like Glenn Ford released from death row, that’s a wake up call that we have to look at our broken system.”

Ford will now go through the long process of trying to rebuild his life on the outside. Under Louisiana law he can apply for compensation of up to $25,000 for each year lost to detention, but only up to a ceiling of $250,000.

As for the Isadore Rozeman case, it has now officially reverted to the status of an unsolved homicide. The local district attorney’s office said that an investigation is under way into “certain individuals” suspected of having been involved in the murder.




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