Glenn Ford, a 64 year-old African American man originally from California, was wrongfully convicted of a murder that took place on November 5, 1983, in Shreveport, Louisiana. The victim was Isadore Rozeman, a jeweler, who was shot behind the counter in his store. Mr. Ford was prosecuted by former lead district attorney, A.M. “Marty” Stroud III, who believed that he charged the right man for the crime committed. In 1984, Mr. Ford was convicted of capital murder by an all-white jury and was sentenced to death by way of electrocution.
Last month in response to an editorial in The Times, former prosecutor Marty Stroud wrote an apology for his role in sending Glenn Ford to death row. Ford was exonerated nearly three decades later after Louisiana presented new evidence that Mr. Ford was not the killer, and he was released from prison and the conviction against him was vacated. However, he was not declared innocent and was denied compensation for wrongful conviction.
In 2013, an unidentified informant revealed that another man originally implicated in the crime, confessed to killing Mr. Rozeman. For nearly thirty years, Mr. Ford maintained his innocence and filed numerous appeals which were denied. He was released from Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola after the state presented its new evidence. The University of Michigan School of Law’s National Registry of Exonerations reports a total of 1,570 known exonerations in the United States since 1989.
Glenn Ford’s Life after Exoneration
In December, 2014, Mr. Ford filed a petition under Louisiana law that allows state compensation for those who have been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. Statutory requirements include that Mr. Ford prove his factual innocence of the crime for which he was convicted. The Attorney General’s office opposed his request and maintained that despite the new exculpatory evidence, Mr. Ford could not prove that he was, “factually innocent.” Nearly a year after Mr. Ford’s exoneration a Caddo Parish Judge denied a state compensation request from Mr. Ford on the basis that Mr. Ford may have been guilty of lesser crimes.
We are disappointed with the court’s decision today denying Glenn Ford compensation for the 30 years he spent on death row for a crime the state of Louisiana agrees he did not commit. In its denial, the court adopted the state’s argument opposing compensation. The ruling inflated the fact that Mr. Ford knew the people who committed the crime and insinuated that Mr. Ford was more involved in the crime than the facts in the record indicate. This is the latest in a series of great injustices that Mr. Ford has suffered over the last 30 years, attorney Kristin Wenstrom of the Innocence Project New Orleans. Read Full Article
The Louisiana Death Penalty
Once a proponent for the death penalty, Mr. Stroud now staunchly opposes the use of capital punishment and condemns the state’s denial of Mr. Ford’s compensation. After three decades of a wrongful conviction, unjust incarceration, and painful waiting of a death row execution, Mr. Ford is currently undergoing chemotherapy in a battle against Stage 4 lung cancer. His physicians have given him only eight or nine months to live. In his letter to the Times, Mr. Stroud attributed his young age and inexperience with trying a capital case as some viable reasons why the death penalty cannot be administered fairly. Well after Mr. Ford was convicted, Mr. Stroud stated that he began to question his own belief in the death penalty and cited 144 known exonerations from the Innocence Project in his letter. He said, “That should tell anyone that our system does not work.”
Still, Louisiana is fully entrenched in its political reality and to maintain the death penalty out of a misguided moral crusade. Former ADA Stroud’s recent apology letter and position on repealing a “barbaric” use of the death penalty has created a national dialogue of dueling opinions on capital punishment. Assistant District Attorney, Dale Cox of Louisiana, maintains a strong position in favor for maintaining a state death penalty and justifies its use in furtherance of revenge, even despite the recent exculpatory evidence presented in Mr. Ford’s case. In a statement to the Shreveport Times, ADA Cox said,
“I think we need to kill more people. . .I think the death penalty should be used more often.”
It is clear that after all the legal errors, outright racism, proven wrongful convictions, and record exonerations throughout the country, logic is completely absent in the current national debate over the death penalty. Moreover, the fact that Mr. Ford is an African American man who has unjustly lost three decades of his life in prison and the blatant disregard to provide compensation for his lost time account for the missing part of Marty Stroud’s apology letter— that we are wrongfully convicting and over-criminalizing African American men at alarmingly high rates, placing them on death row, and committing state enforced lynchings.
A 2007 study of death sentences in Connecticut conducted by Yale University School of Law revealed that African-American defendants receive the death penalty at three times the rate of white defendants in cases where the victims are white. In addition, Amnesty International documented the national decline in the use of the death penalty since 2000 and the documented arbitrariness of the application of capital punishment throughout the country.
In this regard, Louisiana must realize that its maintenance of one of the most abusive state penitentiaries and its high rate of death row executions, despite increasing cases of innocence and exoneration, constitute a sinking ship. If Louisiana does not have the courtesy to provide Mr. Ford his just compensation, the state’s failure to recognize the obsolete and barbaric nature of waiting in suspense on death row for nearly three decades, constitutes a horrific human rights violation under international law.
The Death Penalty under International Law
The U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the Torture Convention) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1984. It was ratified by the United States in 1994. 176 nations have either ratified or signed the torture convention. The treaty forbids psychological and physical abuse of people in prisons and detention, internationally. The language of the Convention is largely open ended to include the death penalty in its broad definition of torture. It is clear that the United States is in violation of the Torture Convention in its application of the death penalty.
Under the Torture Convention, Mr. Ford’s excessive waiting period of three decades on death row is a direct violation of international law. Historically, other death penalty cases in various parts of the world were documented as excessive torture when waiting for execution for fourteen years or seventeen years. International human rights law supports Mr. Ford’s right to compensation by its local state and to render equity for the dire psychological and physical consequences of waiting to be executed by way of electrocution. Aside from his innocence claim, the very nature of waiting for a death row execution was the most profound human rights abuse Mr. Ford could possibly endure.
Shreya Mandal, JD, LMSW works at Brooklyn Defender Services in New York. She recently joined the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma focusing on Global Mental Health and Trauma. Ms. Mandal worked as an in-house mitigation specialist for The Legal Aid Society of New York from 2004 to 2014 and briefly worked as a public defender at The Bronx Defenders. Ms. Mandal is also a recipient of the 2009 National Association of Social Workers Emerging Social Work Leadership Award.