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Louisiana Denies Compensation to Dying Exonerated Death Row Prisoner as Former Prosecutor Apologizes

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Image Credit: Gary Clements

After three decades on death row in Louisiana, Glenn Ford was freed in March 2014 based on new evidence clearing him of the 1983 fatal shooting a jewelry store owner. Ford is African-American and was tried by an all-white jury. In 2000, the Louisiana Supreme Court ordered an evidentiary hearing on Ford’s claim that the prosecution suppressed favorable evidence related to two brothers initially implicated in the crime. Then in 2013, an unidentified informant told prosecutors that one of the brothers had admitted to shooting and killing the jewelry store owner. Shortly after Ford’s release last year, he received a second death sentence: stage 3 lung cancer, which has now advanced to stage 4 and spread to his bones, lymph nodes and spine. His attorney says he has entered hospice care in New Orleans. Ford filed a federal lawsuit claiming prison officials and medical authorities knew he had cancer in 2011 but denied him treatment. Glenn Ford is one of the longest-serving death row prisoners ever to be exonerated. Under Louisiana law, he can ask for a maximum of $330,000 in compensation. But last week a judge denied his request, saying Ford was involved in two lesser crimes. We are joined by the lead prosecutor in Ford’s murder trial, Marty Stroud, who has come out in favor of his compensation. In a three-page letter to the Shreveport Times, Stroud said he no longer supports the death penalty, and apologized to Ford. “I apologize to Glenn Ford for all the misery I have caused him and his family,” he wrote.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to another exoneration, this time in Louisiana. In March 2014, Glenn Ford was freed after three decades on death row. He walked out of the Angola penitentiary when a judge vacated his murder conviction and death sentence. His exoneration came after new evidence emerged clearing him of the 1983 fatal shooting of a jewelry store owner.

Glenn Ford is African-American. He was tried by an all-white jury. In 2000, the Louisiana Supreme Court ordered an evidentiary hearing on Ford’s claim that the prosecution suppressed favorable evidence related to two brothers initially implicated in the crime. Then, in 2013, an unidentified informant told prosecutors one of the brothers had admitted to shooting and killing the jewelry store owner.

Last year, Glenn Ford briefly spoke to reporters as he left the prison a free man.

GLENN FORD: My mind’s going all kinds of directions, but it feels good. I was locked up almost 30 years for something I didn’t do. My son, when I left, was a baby. Now he’s a grown man with babies.

AMY GOODMAN: Shortly after Glenn Ford’s release, he received a second death sentence: stage 3 lung cancer, which has now advanced to stage 4, spread to his bones, lymph nodes and spine. His attorney says he has entered hospice care in New Orleans. Glenn Ford filed a federal lawsuit claiming prison officials and medical authorities knew he had cancer in 2011 but denied him treatment. In February, Glenn Ford spoke to The Times-Picayune about his life after death row.

GLENN FORD: Mainly trying to get keep my health together. That and wondering what’s going to happen after I get denied this compensation. I don’t know what next year’s going to be about, though.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Ford is one of the longest-serving death row prisoners ever to be exonerated. Under Louisiana law, he can ask for a maximum of $330,000 in compensation. But last week, a judge denied his request, saying Ford was involved in two lesser crimes. This comes as the lead prosecutor in Glenn Ford’s murder trial has come out in favor of his compensation. In a three-page letter to the Shreveport Times, Marty Stroud said he no longer supports the death penalty, and apologized to Glenn Ford. He wrote, quote, “I apologize to Glenn Ford for all the misery I have caused him and his family. I apologize to the family of [the victim] 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.”

Well, for more, Marty Stroud joins us, himself, from Shreveport, Louisiana. We had hoped to be joined by Glenn Ford, but he is too ill in hospice care.

Marty Stroud, how was Glenn Ford convicted? You were the prosecutor.

MARTY STROUD: He was convicted—the short answer is—on the basis of the evidence presented, and the jury found that the evidence established beyond a reasonable doubt in their minds that he was guilty of first-degree murder. One of the problems in the case, however, was that his attorneys had been appointed by the court, neither of whom had ever tried a capital case—in fact, may have never tried a case at all. So, looking back on it, though they gave it their best effort, they simply were not skilled in this particular area, and Mr. Ford did not have the benefit of adequate counsel, by any stretch of the imagination.

AMY GOODMAN: When did you realize you may have sent an innocent man to death row, Marty Stroud?

MARTY STROUD: Well, shortly after the case, as it’s working its way through the appeal, I became concerned about the lack of funding that was afforded to Mr. Ford in the case and the lack of his ability to have competent counsel due to the manner in which counsel are appointed in Louisiana. So, for the first few years, I was concerned about the trial itself. I still believed that Mr. Ford was guilty at that time; however, I had doubts about the fairness of his trial, and I thought that he should be afforded a new trial. As the case continued and going through the appellate process, I testified on one, maybe two occasions. I was asked about evidence and police reports that I don’t remember seeing. That caused concerns for me.

As we proceeded, or as the case proceeded, it was then developed, through other investigations, that a confidential informant had come forward and advised the authorities of another individual who allegedly committed the crime. And in a hearing, in a meeting with the investigators, I was told that had we known the evidence at the time, Mr. Ford not only wouldn’t have been convicted, but that it would have been insufficient to cause an arrest warrant to issue, which is a very stunning statement to make 30 years after the fact.

AMY GOODMAN: So he would not only perhaps not have gone to death row, he would not even have been arrested.

MARTY STROUD: That’s correct. And as you know, the standard for an arrest is a lot less than the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. It was—it was stunning. And that particular information was set forth, I believe, in the motion to dismiss the case against Mr. Ford. And that’s quite—it’s a disturbing fact to me, because that is really a stark statement to make, and it—and there’s no way you get around it. I mean, that’s—probable cause is a lesser standard than proof beyond a reasonable doubt. And the state had indicated, in a pleading to the judge, that there was not—in effect, there was not even probable cause to arrest Mr. Ford, much less try and convict him and send him to death row.

AMY GOODMAN: Marty Stroud, describe the scene, the courtroom. You had an African-American man, who was the defendant, and an all-white jury. Now, you determined that, right? You were the lead prosecutor.

MARTY STROUD: I was. The jury was selected. At the time, I did not believe that I intentionally discriminated against African Americans in the selection of jurors. At the time the case was tried, there was a different standard than you have now under—I believe it was Swanson v. Alabama, but I guess I forget. It’s early in the morning, so my mind is not working on all cylinders. However—Swain v. Alabama.

The standard, the evidentiary standard, was that the defense would have to prove that the office had a history of systematic exclusion of African Americans. And under that standard, I felt that—I mean, the court found that there had been no intentional discrimination thereafter. The Supreme Court reversed Swain and, in the Batson case, indicated that if a system is established—for example, if a prosecutor or a defense attorney—it applies both ways—starts excluding people of race or gender or some other prohibited purpose, even under the preemptory challenge part of it, that the prosecutor then had to come forward and give race-neutral reasons for the exclusion of African Americans or whatever minority is raised.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Glenn Ford himself, being interviewed by the Shreveport Times. He was asked to describe what death row did to him emotionally.

GLENN FORD: It separates you. It separates you from everything and everybody. And it’s the length that it separates you, the—can you imagine going 27 years without no human contact, without seeing family, loved ones, so-called friends? And then, one day, after 30 years with no new contact, with no worry about anyone bumping into you, one night you’re sleeping on death row, next morning you’re in the free world. And that’s how overwhelmed I still am.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Glenn Ford. He first became a resident of Louisiana’s death row in 1985, was only released last year after his exoneration. He now is dying in hospice care of cancer. Have you, Marty Stroud, had a chance to talk to him? Have you been able to apologize to him?

MARTY STROUD: Well, I have apologized publicly, and I’m in the process of meeting with him, if it’s OK with his attorneys, and if he wishes to see me—and I believe he does—to apologize to him personally. As I said in my apology, I have—I offer—I really have no excuses for my conduct, other than I was grossly immature at the age of 33, and certainly not, I believe, qualified to try a capital case, because at that young age I was not aware or concerned with the implications of a death penalty. I like to think now that 30 years later I’m somewhat wiser. But I also know that doesn’t really help Mr. Ford any.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about, as we wrap up, the compensation issue, the fact that he was just denied compensation for these 30 years wrongly behind bars on death row?

MARTY STROUD: The problem here is not so much the judge as it is the Legislature. The Legislature passed a statute, in effect, that said that, basically, if you had prior convictions and had served—I mean, had had a record, that under the statute you might not be entitled, if you’ve had certain types of offenses, to qualify for any type of compensation. The problem I have with that statute is, regardless of your prior criminal record, if you have been convicted and sent to jail on a crime that you did not commit, and you have to spend—and I’ve been saying that he was in a 12-by-12 cell; the gentleman I heard just before said he was in a five-by-seven cell, and so I thought I was talking low numbers. And I may have actually overstated the area Glenn Ford had. But nevertheless, the statute would prevent you from receiving any compensation, and that’s insane.

AMY GOODMAN: We just have 30 seconds. How has Glenn Ford’s case changed your view of the death penalty?

MARTY STROUD: I am 100 percent against the death penalty. It is barbaric. And the reason it’s barbaric is that it’s administered by human beings, and we make mistakes. We’re not infallible. Sister Prejean, in her book, Dead Man Walking, said, “We can’t trust the government to fix potholes. How in the world’s name can we trust them to impose a fair and impartial procedure for the death penalty?” And we, as human beings, simply cannot do that. We’re not God.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us, Marty Stroud, lead prosecutor in the 1984 trial in which Glenn Ford was sentenced to death for the murder of a Shreveport, Louisiana, man. After 30 years on death row, Ford was released after the state admitted new evidence proves he was not the killer. He now lays dying in hospice care. We’ll link to Marty Stroud’s three-page letter to the Shreveport Times calling for the state to compensate Glenn Ford.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’re going to speak with a representative of the American Pharmacists Association on a new policy against supplying lethal injection drugs in death penalty cases. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Chumbawamba performing “Waiting for the Bus,” about the case of still-imprisoned Gary Tyler in Louisiana. The case of Gary Tyler has been called one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in the modern history of the United States. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

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