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