Eye on the Courts: Prosecutor Apologizes For Sending the Wrong Man to Death Row

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death-penalty

At the outset, I recommend the readers read the full account of Attorney A.M. “Marty” Stroud III, of Shreveport, who was the lead prosecutor in the December 1984 first-degree murder trial of Glenn Ford, who was sentenced to death for the November 5, 1983, death of Shreveport jeweler Isadore Rozeman. (See full article).

Mr. Ford was released from prison on March 11, 2014, following new evidence that proved he was not the killer. Mr. Stroud is responding to an editorial in the March 6 edition of The Times that urged the state to now give Mr. Ford justice by not fighting compensation, but to allow for those wrongfully convicted.

Mr. Stroud opens, “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.”

To me, the power of this piece is not limited to this specific case, but also that it shows everyone that good faith – while extremely important – is not enough. Justice isn’t putting forth merely a good faith effort to follow the law. Instead, a prosecutor’s duty is really to do justice, to use all due diligence to make sure that the guy you think probably did it, in fact did it, beyond any reasonable doubt.

Unlike other wrongful convictions, Mr. Stroud, at least by his account, did not cheat, lie or hide evidence. Instead, his mistake was to fail to examine all possible leads. To his great credit, a lot of people would simply state that they acted in good faith, and the mistakes were unavoidable. Mr. Stroud does not let himself off the hook so easily.

Mr. Stroud said, “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.”

But Mr. 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 Glenn Ford did not give up and, ultimately, “investigators uncovered evidence that exonerated Mr. Ford. Indeed, this evidence was so strong that had it been disclosed during one of the investigation there would not have been sufficient evidence to even arrest Mr. Ford!”

Mr. Stroud argues, “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.”

Mr. Stroud argues, “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.”

This is really the most remarkable part of the article for me – Mr. Stroud does not take the easy way out. I cannot emphasize enough how extraordinary this is.

He writes, “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.”

His fault: “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,” he writes.

However, he now acknowledges, “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.”

This is a real problem because, too often, prosecutors get locked into a mindset that they have the right guy and they end up inadvertently ignoring potential leads that could lead them to a different conclusion. In this case, we are talking about not only 30 years of a man’s life but also death row and the potential that an innocent man would have been put to death.

But Mr. Stroud does not stop there. He writes, “My silence at trial undoubtedly contributed to the wrong-headed result.”

He said, “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.”

He noted, “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.”

There was also bogus forensic evidence. He writes, “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.”

He says, “All too late, I learned that the testimony was pure junk science at its evil worst.”

He was just 33 years old in 1984, and he called himself “arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic, and very full of myself.” He said, “I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning.”

This has been one of our chief critiques of prosecutors, as well as the adversarial legal system.

He writes, “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.’”

He has now turned against the death penalty. He writes, “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.”

He continues, “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.”

I disagree with Mr. Stroud on his last point. Unlike many in the same situation, he has not sought out false solace and buried his responsibility behind the arguments of good faith and due diligence.

Instead, he shines the light so that we might see why prosecutors need to take all possible steps to follow leads, even if those leads mean they cannot prosecute the defendant.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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25 thoughts on “Eye on the Courts: Prosecutor Apologizes For Sending the Wrong Man to Death Row”

  1. sisterhood

    “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.”

    The circumstances kinda remind me of the West Memphis 3, ultimately released via an Alford plea. At least one of the child victims had a caregiver (father? step father?) who was quite simply a savage. There were rumors in town that the three young men arrested may not be guilty. It was an obscene rush to injustice. Many similarities. Impoverished young (white) men with insufficient funds to defend themselves. A travesty.

    “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.”
    Hear, hear.

  2. Fight Against Injustice

    This article brought me to tears.  I am so thankful there are people like Marty Stroud III.  Everyone can make mistakes.

    Most telling to me is when Mr. Stroud admits,“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.”

    Ajay Dev was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to 378 years.  Our hope is that it won’t take 30 years as it did Mr. Ford for the truth to come forward.  The prosecutor in Ajay’s case did not investigate any evidence that proved Ajay’s innocence and worked very hard to keep this evidence away from the jury.  The prosecutor wanted the conviction and similar to Mr. Stroud’s case, didn’t push to check if justice was served.

    Thank you Marty Stroud III for admitting that mistakes happen and that the right thing to do is to fix them, not bury them.

    1. sisterhood

      Is there any update on Mr. Dev’s appeal? I’ve written a few encouraging notes to him in prison and my family follows his case but I have not read anything recently on the seeking justice for the innocent web site. Thank you.

      1. Fight Against Injustice

        The case is still pending at the 3rd appellate court.  There has not been any news.  The brief was fully filed over a year ago.  Still waiting.

  3. Tia Will

    Mr. Stroud’s admission demonstrates how true strength comes not from being “tough on crime” but rather from honest introspection and willingness to pursue justice even at the cost of a perceived personal “victory”.

  4. Davis Progressive

    i think this is one of the most important pieces that the vanguard has put out.  the prosecutor here is recognizing that following the letter of the law is not enough.  we need to do more to insure that the right people are getting punished for their crimes.  we all get locked into a mindset that we think we know what’s right, but it’s incumbent upon the prosecutors to check every lead even if they think they have been down that road – because they never know.

  5. Davis Progressive

    i also thought of jeff reisig when he made the comment that he was going for the win more than justice.  i wonder if reisig ever has this kind of retrospection.

    1. sisterhood

      DP: The eternal optimist in me thinks even the da’s in northern CA have moments of retrospection.  Here’s hoping they act on their  retrospection for the good of our society.  Similarly,  Tony Serra wrote that he had moments of retrospection when representing a guilty person who may be dangerous. (Paraphrasing from one of Tony’s books.)

  6. Frankly

    Forensic science has advanced significantly and continues to advance.  The risks of wrongful conviction are much lower and continue to decline.

    Although I agree with man of the points of this article, I think it is very unfortunate that it takes a historical proprietorial mistake and retrospective Epiphany to sound modern alarms without also including significant explanation for “what has changed”.

    A couple of thoughts…

    One, DAs should not be elected.  They should be hired.  And they should be precluded from running for office for five years after they quit as a DA.

    As a hired public servant, DAs should be motivated to find the truth the seek justice above and beyond securing wins.

    Wrongful convictions should result in compensation for the wrongly-convicted.  The compensation should be be a lottery win, but reasonable to help support the person in their ongoing life.  They should also be provided ongoing counseling to help them adjust.

     

    1. Davis Progressive

      i agree with everything except your second sentence.  the reason i don’t agree with your second sentence is the bad condition of indigent defense.  one of the lessons here was the a capital murder trial was charged by people with limited criminal experience and no money for experts.  the state of indigent defense is such that this is the rule, not the exception.  and it doesn’t matter how far we have progressed on forensic science and our understanding of junk science, if there is inadequate defense to point it out.

      1. Fight Against Injustice

        I agree with you about the funding.  The funding is not equal, nor is the caseload.  The district attorney’s office gets to utilize the police, sheriff and has its own detectives for investigation.  They get grants that are not available to public defenders.

        On top of that, the prosecutor’s office gets to set the charges.  A prosecutor could choose to stack charges in such a way that will help get a plea bargain (conviction).  If a person’s defense is overloaded or underfunded, then a plea bargain may be a person’s best option even if they are innocent. Also, as you pointed out, the right forensic science may be too expensive to get.

        With this much power and resources given to the prosecutor, he or she need to be especially conscientious of doing justice.

        1. sisterhood

          “If a person’s defense is overloaded or underfunded, then a plea bargain may be a person’s best option even if they are innocent. Also, as you pointed out, the right forensic science may be too expensive to get.”

          I agree with every word. Good reply. In my family member’s case, he plea bargained because the stakes were just too high. If the lazy cops had properly investigated his case before his ridiculous arrest, he would never ever have been arrested. Never. He, like Mr. Dev, had children. After agonizing debate, he accepted a plea. We spent over $250,000 in our legal defense. He plea bargained to 12 months, served six months, in county jail, (versus a potential seven years in state prison) for a crime he did not commit. Just last night he mentioned what respect he has for Ajay Dev for not copping a plea and doing the honorable thing: presenting his case to a jury and having such wonderful faith in our criminal justice system.

          But that system failed Mr. Dev (and so many others)completely.

           

    2. Frankly

      correction for above: should NOT be a lottery win.

      With respect to the funding for higher quality defense, if you consider the DA changing his/her focus to truth and justice it would be less problematic for a less capable defense.

       

      1. Fight Against Injustice

        Changing the DA’s focus to truth or justice instead of conviction rates is key.  How to do that?

        Right now in California the DA is voted into office.  Over 90% of DAs run unopposed no matter their record.  The courts have done very little to DA’s even when prosecutorial misconduct was cited as a reason to overturn a conviction.  The situation Mr. Stroud speaks to is not even prosecutorial misconduct, but a mindset that the prosecutor concentrates more on a conviction rather than look at other options.

        Publicity is our best tool and having people like Mr. Stroud speak out.  If the public starts paying attention and demanding justice first before conviction rates, then things will begin to change.

        1. Frankly

          Currently only Alaska, Connecticut, and New Jersey appoint their DAs.  In the remaining 47 states the DA is an elected position.  I’m thinking that this has to be a state by state change.  In CA why not have a proposition to make all DAs appointed rather than elected?

          As long as DAs are elected, they are by nature going to be political animals and motivated to grow their resume for wins and being tough on crime.

          But this does bring up another concern.  Connecticut is infested with activist judges that let dangerous criminals off with impunity.   I wonder if elected DAs are a check to that potential problem?

        2. Frankly

          I think Connecticut and Vermont both have a record of being lenient on sexual predators, but maybe it is only Vermont and I am mistaken.  If Connecticut has a better track record, then it should be looked at as a model for appointed DAs.

    3. TrueBlueDevil

      But what should we do with the 600 or 700 men on death row at San Quentin Prison? Those with witnesses, blood evidence, sometimes video footage of the act(s), confessions, and DNA evidence?

        1. TrueBlueDevil

          Mayor de Blasio in New York has been soft on crime, and guess what, various reports say the murder rate is up 20% to 33% (two different reports).

          http://dailycaller.com/2015/03/03/report-murders-up-20-percent-so-far-this-year-in-new-york-city/

          Police in New York say that illegal marijuana sales have led to the increase in murder.

          Seattle, pressured by Eric Holder, has instituted PC police policies… and car thefts are through the roof.

        1. sisterhood

          “Police in New York say that illegal marijuana sales have led to the increase in murder.”
          TBD, the New York cops need to present some pretty serious stats to get me to correlate in my mind cannabis sales, (legal or illegal) with murder. That sounds like bs. No offense.

    4. sisterhood

      Re: your comment re: they should not win a lottery, they do not win anything when they are wrongfully jailed.  No monetary compensation can totally heal a person who was wrongfully convicted. There is no magic lottery. But the state should pay the wrongfully convicted person whatever they need to help adjust to however many days they have left in the “free” world. The state owes them that much and I bet Jerry Brown would agree, because he is a compassionate person.

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