Glenn Ford was sentenced to die in 1984 for the murder of a Shreveport, Louisiana jeweller after an all-white jury convicted him. Thirty years later, evidence emerged that proved he wasn’t the killer.
Ford, suffering from lung cancer he said went untreated, was released from Louisiana’s notorious Angola Prison last year.
In a shockingly candid editorial for Shreveport Times, the lead prosecutor on Ford’s case explains why he helped convict an innocent man: “Winning became everything.”
At first, attorney A.M. “Marty” Stroud III was proud that Ford got the death sentence.
“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” he writes, “was alive and well in Caddo Parish,” a Louisiana county that includes Shreveport.
Caddo Parish sentences more people to death per capita than anywhere else in the US, according to The New York Times. (Caddo also had the second-highest number of lynchings between 1877 and 1950, according to data compiled by the Equal Justice Initiative.)
While the victim’s family thanked Stroud profusely for securing the death penalty for Ford, “facts are stubborn things,” Stroud later adds. “They do not go away.”
These facts — which finally freed Ford, Louisiana’s longest-serving death row inmate — included information about the murder weapon that implicated the true perpetrator.
At the time Ford was tried, evidence pointing to his innocence existed. Stroud admits he just didn’t look hard enough. He overlooked the potential bias of an all-white jury. He even put a forensic pathologist, speaking “pure junk science” as Stroud now characterises it, on the strand to prove that the killer had to be left-handed just like Ford.
One of the star witnesses for the prosecution was also the girlfriend of a man previously suspected of the crime. After Ford’s exoneration, she admitted she “lied about it all” in her testimony, quoted by The Guardian.
“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,'” Stroud writes.
In the editorial, Stroud apologizes to Ford, Ford’s family, the jury, and the court for his lack of diligence. But he also spoke out against what he feels is an even larger stain of America’s justice system: the death penalty.
As a cocky, 33-year-old prosecutor, Stroud realises he wasn’t capable of deciding whether someone lived or died — and he feels no one else can do the same “fairly and impartially.” He writes:
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 fibres 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.
Aside from Stroud’s mistakes, many experts like federal judge Jed Rakoff already worry that prosecutors have too much power. They can decide when to brings charges, what charges to bring, and if a defendant will have the opportunity to take a plea bargain.
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