This is the first, and probably will be the last, time that I have publicly voiced an opinion on any of your editorials. Quite frankly, I believe many of your editorials avoid the hard questions on a current issue in order not to be too controversial. I congratulate you here, though, because you have taken a clear stand on what needs to be done in the name of justice.
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. I witnessed the imposition of the death sentence upon him. I believed that justice was done. I had done my job. I was one of the prosecutors and I was proud of what I had done.
The death sentence had illustrated that our community would brook no tolerance for cold-blooded killers. The Old Testament admonishment, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, was alive and well in Caddo Parish. I even received a congratulatory note from one of the state’s witnesses, concluding with the question, “how does it feel to be wearing a black glove?”
Members of the victim’s family profusely thanked the prosecutors and investigators for our efforts. They had received some closure, or so everyone thought. However, due to the hard work and dedication of lawyers working with the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana, along with the efforts of the Caddo Parish district attorney’s and sheriff’s offices, the truth was uncovered.
Glenn Ford was an innocent man. He was released from the hell hole he had endured for the last three decades.
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. His surroundings were dire. Lighting was poor, heating and cooling were almost non-existent, food bordered on the uneatable. Nobody wanted to be accused of “coddling” a death row inmate.
But Mr. Ford never gave up. He continued the fight for his innocence. And it finally paid off.
Pursuant to the review and investigation of cold homicide cases, investigators uncovered evidence that exonerated Mr. Ford. Indeed, this evidence was so strong that had it been disclosed during of the investigation there would not have been sufficient evidence to even arrest Mr. Ford!
And yet, despite this grave injustice, the state does not accept any responsibility for the damage suffered by one of its citizens. The bureaucratic response appears to be that nobody did anything intentionally wrong, thus the state has no responsibility. This is nonsensical. Explain that position to Mr. Ford and his family. Facts are stubborn things, they do not go away.
At the time this case was tried there was evidence that would have cleared Glenn Ford. The easy and convenient argument is that the prosecutors did not know of such evidence, thus they were absolved of any responsibility for the wrongful conviction.
I can take no comfort in such an argument. 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.
Part of my duty was to disclose promptly any exculpatory evidence relating to trial and penalty issues of which I was made aware. My fault was that I was too passive. I did not consider the rumors about the involvement of parties other than Mr. Ford to be credible, especially since the three others who were indicted for the crime were ultimately released for lack of sufficient evidence to proceed to the trial.
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.
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.”
In my rebuttal argument during the penalty phase of the trial, I mocked Mr. Ford, stating that this man wanted to stay alive so he could be given the opportunity to prove his innocence. I continued by saying this should be an affront to each of you jurors, for he showed no remorse, only contempt for your verdict.
How totally wrong was I.
I speak only for me and no one else.
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.
Glenn Ford deserves every penny owed to him under the compensation statute. This case is another example of the arbitrariness of the death penalty. I now realize, all too painfully, that as a young 33-year-old prosecutor, I was not capable of making a decision that could have led to the killing of another human being.
No one should be given the ability to impose a sentence of death in any criminal proceeding. We are simply incapable of devising a system that can fairly and impartially impose a sentence of death because we are all fallible human beings.
The clear reality is that the death penalty is an anathema to any society that purports to call itself civilized. It is an abomination that continues to scar the fibers of this society and it will continue to do so until this barbaric penalty is outlawed. Until then, we will live in a land that condones state assisted revenge and that is not justice in any form or fashion.
I end with the hope that providence will have more mercy for me than I showed Glenn Ford. But, I am also sobered by the realization that I certainly am not deserving of it.