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.
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
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