Eye on the Courts: Is There a Place in the Legal System for Justice and Mercy?

Glenn Ford's mugshot from 1984
Glenn Ford’s mugshot from 1984

Last night 60 Minutes had a segment on Glenn Ford, who spent nearly 30 years on death row, in solitary confinement, in Louisiana’s notorious Angola prison – until new evidence revealed he did not commit the murder. He would die this year at the age of 65, denied compensation by a system indifferent to the injustice they bestowed on him.

Incredibly, last night on 60 Minutes, his prosecutor spoke out to the injustice he believes destroyed two lives: Glenn Ford’s and his own.

He told 60 Minutes, “I ended up, without anybody else’s help, putting a man on death row who didn’t belong there. I mean at the end of the day, the beginning, end, middle, whatever you want to call it, I did something that was very, very bad.” He added, “I was arrogant, narcissistic, caught up in the culture of winning.”

It is the latter that we hear so often – culture of winning. It wasn’t that Marty Stroud was malicious in this case. Instead, as he put it, he failed to investigate thoroughly. He said, “Looking back on it, yes. There was a question about other people’s involvement. I should have followed up on that. I didn’t do that.”

He added, “I think my failure to say something can only be described as cowardice. I was a coward.”

It goes beyond Mr. Stroud though. The system was stacked up against Mr. Ford. Amazingly, “his court-appointed lawyers had never practiced criminal law.” Even more amazingly, this is not a unique or even unusual story. So here you had a capital murder case and court-appointed attorneys with no criminal law experience.

The case against Mr. Ford was weak – no physical evidence and the main witness “admitted in court she’d been coerced by police to make up her testimony.” However, the all-white jury was not discerning. “It took the jury less than three hours to find Glenn Ford guilty. Afterwards, Stroud and his legal team went out and celebrated sending Ford to death row.”

He said, “I had drinks. I slapped people on the back. We sang songs. That was utterly disgusting. You know, it– I– you see Mother Justice sometimes, and– a statue. And she has a blindfold over her eyes. She was crying that night because that wasn’t justice. That wasn’t justice at all.”

Mr. Stroud’s reaction when he learned that Glenn Ford was wrongly convicted: “I thought I was going to throw up. Nauseous as it– and I felt my face was just turning, like a fever. But then, the horror of knowing that yours truly had caused him all this pain.”

What is interesting about this story is that the bad guy here is not Marty Stroud, a young and ambitious attorney at times. He made mistakes for sure, and he feels remorse for those mistakes. But the culprits here are a system that allowed inexperienced attorneys to handle a case of this complexity and allowed a biased jury to deliberate over it.

However, the astounding aspect of it was the comments made by Dale Cox, current acting DA at Caddo Parish, who got Mr. Ford released after receiving the informant’s information.

Catch our discussion on Wrongful Convictions on November 15 - click on the photo to purchase your tickets
Catch our discussion on Wrongful Convictions on November 15 – click on the photo to purchase your tickets

He argues that Mr. Ford got “delayed justice.” He said that “the justice system worked and no one, including Marty Stroud, did anything wrong.”

Mr. Cox told 60 Minutes, “I don’t know what it is he’s apologizing for. I think he’s wrong in that the system did not fail Mr. Ford.”

His logic, tortured, is the embodiment of an indifferent and broken system. As 60 Minutes put it, “There may be no more controversial prosecutor in the U.S. than Dale Cox. Between 2010 and 2014, his Caddo Parish office put more people on death row per capita than anywhere else in the country.”

He said, “I think society should be employing the death penalty more rather than less.”

When Bill Whitaker of 60 Minutes noted “there have been 10 other inmates on death row in Louisiana who have been exonerated. Clearly, the system is not flawless. Are you sure that you’ve gotten it right all the time?”

He responded, “I’m reasonably confident that– that I’ve gotten it right.”

The worse injustice is, “According to Louisiana law, Glenn Ford was entitled to $330,000, about $11,000 for every year of wrongful imprisonment. But the state is denying him the money. Why? In the original trial, prosecutors said Ford knew a robbery of Rozeman’s jewelry shop was going to take place. But he didn’t report it. Ford was never charged with that crime, but the state says that’s reason enough to deny him.”

He was asked if he should be compensated. Mr. Cox responded, “No, I think we need to follow the law. And the statute does not require that you be charged or convicted or arrested for any of these other crimes. The statute only requires that Mr. Ford prove he didn’t do these other crimes.”

Guilty until proven innocent? Mr. Cox responded that “it’s not a question of guilt or innocence. It’s a question of whether he’s entitled to money…taxpayer money.”

Bill Whitaker: I’m trying to understand. He was punished for something that he might have done. That doesn’t seem fair.

Dale Cox: You want fairness…

Bill Whitaker: Isn’t the law supposed to provide fairness?

Dale Cox: It is supposed to provide justice.

Bill Whitaker: You don’t think he deserves compensation

Dale Cox: I think that the law must be followed.

Later Mr. Cox stated, “You’re trying to portray the state of Louisiana as some kind of monster. I got him out of jail as quickly as I could. That’s what the obligation of the state is.” And as far as he was concerned, that was the end of the state’s obligation.

Mr. Whitaker asked, “What about compassion? Have you no compassion for what Mr. Ford has been through?”

Mr. Cox got defensive, “Well, you don’t know me at all, do you? But you have no problem asking that question.” He would astonishingly add, “I’m not in the compassion business, none of us as prosecutors or defense lawyers are in the compassion business. I think the ministry is in the compassion business. We’re in the legal business. So to suggest that somehow what has happened to Glenn Ford is abhorrent, yes, it’s unfair. But it’s not illegal. And it’s not even immoral. It just doesn’t fit your perception of fairness.”

There is no place in the law for compassion? How about “mercy”? The definition of mercy is “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.”

Marty Stroud took a different view than Dale Cox. He believed that Glenn Ford deserved every penny owed him and he went to see Mr. Ford to apologize.

Mr. Ford, for his part, could not forgive him. “No. He didn’t only take from me; he took from my whole family.” He said that he could never forgive him, “I don’t. But I’m still trying to.”

Mr. Stroud didn’t blame him. “If somebody had done that to me, I don’t know if I could forgive them.” He added, “I’ve got a hole in me through which the north wind blows. It’s a sense of coldness, it’s a sense of just disgust. There’s just nothing out there that can fill in that hole that says I– it’s alright. Well, it’s not alright. It’s not alright.”

60 Minutes reported that three weeks after they met him, “Glenn Ford died, penniless. His final months he lived off charity. Donations covered the cost of his funeral.”

Dale Cox reacted with indifference, “There was a tragic outcome. And these tragic outcomes happen all the time in life. It’s not like the Glenn Ford case is the only tragedy you’ll ever see or I’ll ever see in our lifetime. The question is, was there anything illegally done, improperly done that led to this. And– and I can comfortably say, based on the review of the record, no, there was not.”

The case of Glenn Ford was tragic. He spent 30 horrible years on death row in solitary confinement for a crime that he did not commit and, upon release, there was no justice. The state of Louisiana denied him what little dignity he may have had in life or in his tragic death a few months later.

Do you agree with Dale Cox that there were no mistakes and that these things just happen? That there is no place for compassion in the legal system?

—David M. Greenwald reporting

Watch the video:

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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15 Comments

    1. Frankly

      Except in Vermont where liberal judges give those convicted of child sex crimes a slap on the wrist and set them free… because of mercy and compassion.

      By the way, I think Ford deserved the money or at least some money.

  1. Davis Progressive

    this is a travesty.  i find the comments by the prosecutor appalling as though he has no ability to change the way things are.  louisiana is one of the worst states in the country in terms of providing legally mandated representations.  this man’s life was destroyed every bit as much as though he were executed.  there was no justice.  i certainly don’t believe in a system without compassion or mercy.  otherwise we have not a justice system, but a bureaucracy.

  2. Anon

    I have huge empathy for Stroud here, no question.  But the legal system 30 years ago is not the same as the legal system today.  That is not to say the legal system is perfect, or even close to it and far from it.  But things have changed considerably over 30 years.

    1. tj

      Ford’s situation sounds a lot like a case in Ventura County.   The inmate was convicted of manual strangulation but the medical examiner did not find manual strangulation or any sign of violence.  The jury was shown photos of livor mortis in the neck area and told instead that the defendant had bruised the victim terribly.  26 years in prison.  Ventura’s Conviction Integrity Unit does not want to admit that “errors” were made and the inmate should be released.

      The CA Parole Board is rather amateurish.  Parole hearings are basically secret from the public.  The public would be surprised at what goes on in the hearings.  And there are no rules or regulations against the DA’s or police departments secretly contacting CDCR staff and parole commissioners and telling them how they want the parole hearing to turn out.  Documents submitted to the hearing commissioners are kept secret.   Lots of people making money off this system while the inmates pay with their lives, and taxpayers pay and pay.

    2. Napoleon Pig IV

      “But things have changed considerably over 30 years.”

      Really?

      The fact that Dale Cox is currently “acting” DA in Caddo Parish suggests that you are wrong.

    3. Tia Will

      Anon

      But the legal system 30 years ago is not the same as the legal system today”

      I understand your point. However, if the legal system of today will not redress the errors of the legal system of 30 years ago, how far have we really come ?

      1. Anon

        I have no problem with redressing problems that happened 30 years ago.  My point was I don’t think the legal system is the same as it was 30 years ago, thank goodness.  Am I naive enough to think it is not flawed?  Heck no.  That is why I oppose the death penalty.  Even if law enforcement and prosecutors do everything right, they still can convict the innocent through honest mistakes not of their own making, such as witness misidentification (I know of a case where this happened).

        1. Davis Progressive

          the legal system is in some ways better than it was 30 years ago but in a lot of ways worse.  one way it’s worse is that there is no discretion for judges to take the facts of a case into account when issuing sentences.  another way it’s worse is the extreme pressure for prosecutors to get convictions – regardless of the consequence.  we are finally starting to recognize problems in the system, but as the crime rate ticks back up, who knows how long we’ll stand by these reforms.

    1. Anon

      There is still a serious problem in the justice system where DA’s who conduct themselves outside the law are not held accountable – the excuse is the DA is immune from prosecution because s/he was just carrying out his/her duties.  If DAs knowingly suppress evidence, they are not really carrying out their “duties” as legally prescribed, but disobeying the law they are subject to.  Big difference IMO.

      1. hpierce

        Ok Anon and DP, how do we mitigate/solve the problem?  Suggestions/ideas?  Meant as a fair question.  I agree with the problem, but not my field, so honestly have no idea.

        1. Anon

          You push for legislation that pierces the prosecutorial veil of immunity in cases where prosecutors blatantly act outside the scope of their authority by disobeying the ethical cannons they are clearly subject to.  For instance, a prosecutor has a duty to turn over any exculpatory evidence to the defense.  If a prosecutor blatantly violates this obligation (it isn’t a close call as to whether the evidence is exculpatory), then the prosecutor can be held liable for that wrong – fines, jail time.

  3. Jerry Waszczuk

     

    May 25, 2015
    To :.Ashante L. Norton, Esq.
    CUIAB Legal Counsel
    Deputy Attorney General

    On February 24, 2014, the Plaintiff’s attorney in the wrongful termination case pending in Sacramento Superior Court (Janet Keyzer v. The Regents of the University of California) filed a Plaintiff’s Peremptory Challenge (CCP § 170.6) against the Judge Chang. The Plaintiff’s attorney, Mary-Alice Coleman, declared that:
    The Honorable Shelleyanne W. L. Chang, the Judge before whom the trial in the aforesaid matter is pending or to whom the aforesaid trial is assigned, is prejudiced against me or Plaintiff so that Plaintiff cannot or I believe that Plaintiff cannot have a fair and impartial hearing before this Judge.”
    On March 21, 2014, my Writ of Mandate case was reassigned from the Hon. Eugene Balonon to Hon. Shelleyanne Chang in Department 24.
     
    Noting would be unusual reassigning my Writ of Mandate case to the Judge Chang if just one month prior the reassignment, she had not been the subject of a Plaintiff’s Peremptory Challenge in Janet Keyzer  wrongful termination case against the same Defendant in my wrongful termination case and Real Party of Interest in Writ of Mandate case 

    In conclusion, I can only compare the justice I received from two judges in the Sacramento Superior Court to that described in Timothy D. Naegele ’s Blog article, “The State Bar Of California Is Lawless And A Travesty, And Should Be Abolished

     

    “Tragically, the system of “justice” in the United States—and especially in California—is little better than that of Russia and other authoritarian countries that try to silence their critics.

    The principal problem is that the judges are often egotistical, callous, mean-spirited, power-hungry, self-righteous, condescending and, yes, incompetent and arrogant. They can smile at you, just as easily as they can slit your throat and never think twice about doing it.”( https://naegeleblog.wordpress.com/2014/09/08/the-state-bar-of-california-is-lawless-and-a-travesty-and-should-be-abolished/)

    If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me at your convenience.

     

    Sincerely,

     

     

    Jaroslaw Waszczuk, In Pro Per

     

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