Glenn Ford, Louisiana’s longest-serving death row inmate, is actually innocent.  On Tuesday, he walked free.  For three decades, he maintained his innocence.  Ford became a suspect in the murder of Isadore Rozeman, a jeweler, when Ford, who occasionally did yard work for Rozeman, was implicated by another suspect’s girlfriend.  At Ford’s trial, she admitted on the stand to the jury that she “lied about all of it,” and that police helped her make up the story, but he was still convicted and sentenced to death.

Ford’s trial was “profoundly compromised by inexperienced counsel and by the unconstitutional suppression of evidence, including information from an informant, a suppressed police report related to the time of the crime, and evidence of the murder weapon, which implicated the true perpetrator,” his attorneys said.

According to the Capital Post Conviction Project of Louisiana, the prosecution told the jury that fingerprints found on a bag at the scene had more in common with Ford than other suspects, he had gunshot residue (GSR) on his hands and that he was left-handed like the killer.  There were no witnesses and no weapon was ever found.  His lawyers had no experience with criminal trials let alone capital cases.  They were selected for Ford from an alphabetical list.  One of his attorneys worked at an insurance firm.  Even though an appeals court later said that prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence and they had serious questions about the case, they declined to grant him a new trial.

So what would it take to release Ford from death row other than an execution?

The prosecutor changed his mind.

Another man, who was a suspect all along, confessed to being the real killer to a confidential state informant.  The state called that, new “credible” evidence.  A district judge approved the state’s motion to vacate Ford’s conviction and sentence.

“I’ve been locked up almost 30 years for something I didn’t do,” Ford said, “I can’t go back and do anything I should have been doing when I was 35, 38, 40…”  He added that when he went to death row, his kids were babies, but now, his kids have babies.

Ford’s original trial was riddled with unreliable testimony and questionable activities, to name a few:

  • The jury was all-white because prosecutor’s systematically excluded African Americans.
  • The coroner testified to the time of death, but never examined the body.
  • A police officer compared the fingerprints at the scene to Ford and found a match, but was never trained as a fingerprint examiner.
  • His defense failed to call any experts because they misunderstood how to pay for them.

Andrew Cohen wrote about the case in The Atlantic:

“Any exoneration is remarkable, of course. Any act of justice after decades of injustice is laudable. It is never too late to put to right a wrong. But what also is striking about this case is how weak it always was, how frequently Ford’s constitutional rights were denied, and yet how determined Louisiana’s judges were over decades to defend an indefensible result.”

“This is a sad story with a happy ending…it raises the inescapable question of how many other condemned men and woman are sitting on death row in the nation’s prisons, after sham trials…after feckless appellate review, waiting for lightning to strike them the way it has Glenn Ford.  How many men [and women], that is, who have not yet been executed…”

A pair of brothers, the Robinsons, were believed to be the real perpetrators and police even suspected that they had the murder weapon.  One of them gave Ford stolen jewelry from Rozeman’s store, and asked him to pawn it.  Three months after Rozeman’s murder, all three were charged.  The state of Louisiana now says that Ford was not present nor did he participate in the 1983 murder or robbery of Isadore Rozeman.  For years Ford tried to show that his trial was compromised by Constitutional violations and inadequate assistance of counsel.  His appeals were denied.

“We are very pleased to see Glenn Ford finally exonerated, and we are particularly grateful that the prosecution and the court moved ahead so decisively to set Mr. Ford free,” said Gary Clements and Aaron Novod, Ford’s attorneys.

“Glenn Ford is living proof of just how flawed our justice system truly is. We are moved that Mr. Ford…will be able to leave death row a survivor,” Amnesty International USA senior campaigner Thenjiwe Tameika McHarris said in a statement.

Ford said when asked by a reporter outside the prison if he was resentful, “Yeah…I was locked up almost 30 years for something I didn’t do…I can’t go back.”

On February 28, 1991, Glenn Ford was scheduled to be executed.  Had the warrant been executed, would we have ever known that he wasn’t guilty?  Twenty-six other inmates were executed while Ford awaited his date.

Cohen put it elegantly, “What a waste – of a…life, of millions of dollars…of thousands upon thousands of hours of work…all because the criminal justice system failed 30 years ago to provide to Ford…even a remotely fair trial.  Soon it will be the first day of the rest of Glenn Ford’s life.  He’ll try to make the best of it…”

Ford’s exoneration brings the tally of Louisiana’s known innocent death row inmates to 10 since 1973.  Last October, Herman Wallace’s conviction and death sentence were overturned because the prosecution hid the fact that the only evidence in the case (four jailhouse informants) were incentivized for their testimony.  The prosecution filed to retry Wallace, but Wallace passed away in his sleep.  He was terminally ill when he was released.

The District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla told ThinkProgress, after hearing of his death, “We indicted him yesterday…we were gonna have…him picked up, but somebody told me he went ahead and died.”

Damon Thibodeaux, who spent 15 years on death row in Louisiana, recently testified before the Senate about the inhumane conditions of solitary confinement, “Fairly early during my confinement…I very seriously considered…letting the State execute me.  No one, no matter how horrible the crime…can endure this…”

Thibodeaux was convicted in 1997 of the rape and murder of his half-cousin Crystal Champagne.  His conviction was largely based upon a false confession.  Even though there was no evidence of sexual assault, the police and prosecution went forward with the motive and theory anyway.  In 2007, Thibodeaux’s case was reinvestigated by the Innocence Project and the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office.  Both sides conducted multiple rounds of evidence testing and reinterviewed witnesses.  DNA and further forensic testing revealed that the victim had not even been sexually assaulted.  Thibodeaux was excluded from the testing of the murder weapon and the victim’s clothing, an unknown male profile was found.  Both sides also agreed that Thibodeaux had falsely confessed because of exhaustion, psychological vulnerability, and fear.  The prosecution’s own expert at the time concluded that he falsely confessed, but this was never shared with the defense.  In addition, the witnesses who testified to seeing him pacing at the murder scene, saw media reports of Thibodeaux’s arrest before identifying him.  And could not have seen him pacing the day after the body was found because he was already in custody when they witnessed this event.  District Attorney, Paul Connick, Jr., joined the Innocence Project, the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana and the law firm of Fredrikson & Byron in agreeing to overturn Thibodeaux’s conviction and death sentence, and he was released in September 2012 after 15 years on death row.

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