A Louisiana man was exonerated and released from prison Tuesday afternoon after spending the past three decades on death row for a murder he did not commit. In a new column in
, contributing editor Andrew Cohen recounts what led to the wrongful conviction of Glenn Ford and ultimately what freed him.
Ford, who is black, was convicted of the murder of Isadore Rozeman by an all-white jury in Louisiana in 1984 following a trial riddled with unreliable testimony. Witnesses included a coroner who did not actually examine the victim’s body testified about the time of death and a police officer who is not a fingerprint expert testified that a print matched to Ford.
Because Ford had done yard work for Rozeman, several witnesses placed him near the scene of the crime on the day of the murder. He willingly went to the police station and cooperated with the investigation for the months while maintaining his innocence from the beginning. Cohen writes:
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.
A pair of brothers, the Robinsons, were soon believed to be the real perpetrators and police even suspected one of them of being in possession of the murder weapon. One of them approached Ford and asked him to pawn jewelry that police later realized was similar to merchandise taken from Rozeman’s store.
Three months after Rozeman’s death, all three were charged with his murder after the girlfriend of one of the brothers incriminated Ford by saying he was not only with the Robinsons on the day of the murder, but that he still had the murder weapon. But a murder weapon was never found.
Besides the flawed testimony, Ford’s was represented by two o inexperienced and unprepared attorneys who were selected from an alphabetical listing of lawyers at the local bar association. To make matters worse, prosecutors tried and succeeded in keeping blacks off the jury.
But Ford’s attorney’s finally got the prosecutor’s to see the truth. Cohen writes:
This is a sad story with a happy ending. But it’s a story I’ve written before. And 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 like this, after feckless appellate review, waiting for lightning to strike them the way it has Glenn Ford. How many men, that is, who have not yet been executed despite being innocent of murder.
Until the very end what happened here was neither law nor order. It was instead something arbitrary and capricious, like the application of the death penalty itself. For Glenn Ford, the man Louisiana now says is innocent of murder, once faced a death warrant—on February 28, 1991. Had that warrant been executed who exactly would have known of the injustice of that act? Twenty-six other Louisiana death row inmates were killed during his decades on death row—eight by lethal injection, 18 by the electric chair.
What a waste—of a man’s life, of millions of dollars in prison costs, of thousands upon thousands of hours of work by lawyers and judges and investigators and experts, all because the criminal justice system failed 30 years ago to provide to Ford with 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. Which is about all you can say, too, about the men and women responsible for Louisiana’s justice system.