A Remorseful Prosecutor Apologizes

Above: Glenn Ford Today. L-Ford in 1983 R-The apologetic prosecutor

Above: Glenn Ford Today. L-Ford in 1983 R-The apologetic prosecutor

Now THIS is a #1 Level apology on the Ethics Alarms Apology Scale.

It’s more than an apology, really: it approaches self-flagellation. The tragic aspect of the confession and apology of former prosecutor  A.M. “Marty” Stroud III,  is that no one can really apologize for what he did, not after 30 years. For Stroud was the lead prosecutor in the December 1984 first-degree murder trial of Glenn Ford, who was convicted and sentenced to death for murdering Isadore Rozeman. Ford was innocent, and was finally released a year ago. His is a classic, horror story of justice derailed.

Ford could not afford a lawyer, so the court selected one from an alphabetical list from the local bar association.  His lead counsel was an oil and gas lawyer who had never tried a case before a jury. The co-counsel  was working at an insurance defense firm on slip-and-fall cases, and had also never tried a case, never mind  one involving criminal law.The prosecution’s main witness, a girlfriend of one of the two men initially charged along with Ford, admitted at trial that police had helped her make up her story and that she “lied about all of it.” Thus the State’s case relied on three forensic experts. One expert testified about the victim’s time of death but had not even examined the victim’s body.  Ford’s defense lawyers, meanwhile, failed to hire any experts to rebut the prosecution’s case because they were afraid they would have to pay them. (This is, as you might guess, unethical.)

Ford is black; he was tried and sentenced to death by an all-white jury. The Louisiana Supreme Court unanimously affirmed Ford’s conviction and death sentence even though it was troubled by “serious questions” about the adequacy of the State’s evidence.

Later, new lawyers showed that the prosecution suppressed evidence that corroborated Ford’s story that he was not present at or involved in the murder. There was evidence of a murder weapon that implicated one of the other two men originally charged with  Ford, but that was withheld as well. Three expert witnesses finally got to eviscerate the State’s expert’s  testimony, but a trial court denied relief, and the Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed. Then, in 2013, the case against Ford fell apart when prosecutors told defense counsel that a confidential informant had revealed that one of the other men previously charged in the crime had admitted that he  had shot and killed Rozeman. A year ago, both the Louisiana and defense lawyers filed motions to vacate Ford’s conviction, and Ford was finally released.

Glenn Ford is 64 years old now. He and his lawyers are seeking damages and restitution from the system that robbed him of his life. Unbelievably, Louisiana is fighting him, arguing that he can’t prove he is innocent, just that the State didn’t fairly prove him guilty. The Shreveport Times wrote an editorial calling on the state to do the right thing, admit culpability, and give Ford the (grossly inadequate) $330,00 compensation package allowed by state law for wrongfully convicted individuals meeting statutory requirements. That editorial prompted this remarkable public mea culpa from the man who sent him to Death Row, Marty  Stroud:

This is the first, and probably will be the last, time that I have publicly voiced an opinion on any of your editorials. Quite frankly, I believe many of your editorials avoid the hard questions on a current issue in order not to be too controversial. I congratulate you here, though, because you have taken a clear stand on what needs to be done in the name of justice.

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. I know of what I speak.

I was at the trial of Glenn Ford from beginning to end. I witnessed the imposition of the death sentence upon him. 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. The death sentence had illustrated that our community would brook no tolerance for cold-blooded killers. The Old Testament admonishment, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, was alive and well in Caddo Parish. I even received a congratulatory note from one of the state’s witnesses, concluding with the question, “how does it feel to be wearing a black glove?”

Members of the victim’s family profusely thanked the prosecutors and investigators for our efforts. They had received some closure, or so everyone thought. However, due to the hard work and dedication of lawyers working with the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana, along with the efforts of the Caddo Parish district attorney’s and sheriff’s offices, the truth was uncovered.

Glenn 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 Mr. Ford never gave up. He continued the fight for his innocence. And it finally paid off.

Pursuant to the review and investigation of cold homicide cases, investigators uncovered evidence that exonerated Mr. Ford. Indeed, this evidence was so strong that had it been disclosed during of the investigation there would not have been sufficient evidence to even arrest Mr. Ford! And yet, 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.

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.  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.

Part of my duty was to disclose promptly any exculpatory evidence relating to trial and penalty issues of which I was made aware. 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 state admitted in 2013 that it had credible evidence to overturn a conviction and death sentence in the Glenn Ford case that local attorney Marty Stroud prosecuted. Stroud says he feels that Ford should be compensated.

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.

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.

Furthermore, my silence at trial undoubtedly contributed to the wrong-headed result. 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.

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. And I knew this was a very burdensome requirement that had never been met in the jurisprudence of which I was aware. 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.

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

In 1984, I was 33 years old. 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.” 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.”

In my rebuttal argument during the penalty phase of the trial, I mocked Mr. Ford, stating that this man wanted to stay alive so he could be given the opportunity to prove his innocence. I continued by saying this should be an affront to each of you jurors, for he showed no remorse, only contempt for your verdict.

How totally wrong was I.

I  speak only for me and no one else.

I apologize to Glenn Ford for all the misery I have caused him and his family.

I apologize to the family of Mr. Rozeman for giving them the false hope of some closure.

I apologize to the members of the jury for not having all of the story that should have been disclosed to them.

I apologize to the court in not having been more diligent in my duty to ensure that proper disclosures of any exculpatory evidence had been provided to the defense.

Glenn Ford deserves every penny owed to him under the compensation statute.

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. 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.

____________________________

Sources: Shreveport Journal 1, 2, eji, Atlantic

54 thoughts on “A Remorseful Prosecutor Apologizes

  1. “Ford is black; he was tried and sentenced to death by an all-white jury.”

    Unless you assert that race had something to do with his conviction, and therefore accuse the jury of racism, this is an irrelevant point to make.

    The prosecutor’s apology even adds the tidbit, quietly impugning the jury while not outright accusing them of racism. Cheap.

    Otherwise his apology is great.

    • I’m sure there was no racism whatsoever in the criminal justice system in Louisiana in the 1980s. It was an accident that all blacks were challenged and excused from the jury in this case. It impugns an entire state to suggest that any part of the justice system was tainted by racism. I mean, where’s the proof?

      The prosecutor’s worst crime was in his “apology,” impugning the jury without an ounce of proof. And Jack himself should be ashamed for giving credence to such an unfounded allegation of racism by even printing such obvious left-wing rabble-rousing drivel.

    • Now striking a juror for race only is grounds for a mistrial. That’s how I took it—it was a common practice found by US appeals courts to be prejudicial. He needn’t apologize for doing what the law permitted him to do.

        • No. But a jury where any race has been systematically purged of one race denies a defendant a fair trial as a matter of law. That doesn’t suggest that a jury is racist; it suggests that a lawyer was trying to maximize the chances of racial bias turning the case.

          • Well, it’d be useful explaining that and not a stand alone line about the composition of the jury compared to the defendant. Of course the apology explains it, but that comes much later in the post.

            By the by, why did Glenn Ford get initially roped into this? Had he some association with the previous accused murderers?

  2. Oh dear God! This man lost much more than 30 years of his life. He will never heal, never be whole, and no amount of time or money will change that. Death would have been a mercy.

  3. This is one more reason why we can not trust humans to run the system.

    What we need is full automation. Robots and computers make no mistakes; they only follow their programming.

  4. All the plaid jacketed car wreck lawyers who keep the Maricopa County courts clogged with whiplash cases came up with the brilliant idea of dragooning bar members into arbitrating cases. It was mandatory and you were only paid seventy bucks per case. All the car wreck guys loved having the chance to play judge for a day. I was a transactional lawyer and had probably been near a court room more than three or four times in my career. No matter, arbitrate a case, Bill.

    What a stupid system to force bar members to try cases, either as judges or attorneys. I thought slavery had gone out in the Nineteenth Century. But since the bar associations are run by litigators, they get to make the stupid rules in their best interest. Poor Glenn Ford paid the price for thirty miserable years. I hope Marty Stroud speaks to every new class of prosecutors every year for the rest of his life. Maybe Mr. Ford could sit next to him during his speeches and look at all the young bucks.

      • Humanity is the problem.

        http://www.nice.com/robotic-automation

        Robots don’t make mistakes or judgment calls, and they don’t get tired. With routine processes completed flawlessly, every time, you don’t need to allocate time for making corrections.

        By sharp contrast, as quoted above.

        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.

        why should we have fallible human beings in charge of criminal justice when we can have perfect computers and robots instead? We are relying more and more on automation, to take humans out of the loop in so many areas of life- even warfare. We should do so for criminal justice.

          • I just thought his apology was really human because try as he might, he couldn’t really admit he’d actually done anything wrong. He never admitted failing to produce evidence to the defense. He just said he didn’t look hard enough. I’m not buying it.

            • Computer justice? Hah. Why not trial by fire? Stick a hot knife on the defendant’s tongue? Lie detectors? Hahahahahahaha.

              • I read a very interesting piece, I can’t find the link to it, of an argument that, given the social arrangement and economic condition of the Middle Ages, that Trial by combat filled a very useful economic and community need.

                • The way our society is heading, trial by combat might be very useful again very soon. Not that the Trial Lawyers would go for it, certainly not if they were to become surrogates for their clients. hahahahaha

            • I read the apology as actually REFUSING to admit that he had done anything wrong. The apology walks a fine line (deliberately so, he’s an attorney and could have chosen different words) of saying his office could have done better, injustice had occurred, the death penalty is bad but HE didn’t really do anything wrong. I’m not sure a review board would agree.
              I thought his apology could have been more genuine.

              All that being said, I still do sympathize with him because being a prosecutor (assuming that prosecutor has any ethical core — some do not) is a challenging job. There are always limited resources combined with a pressure to obtain plea deals or a quick trial. One decision not to follow up on the 1000th lead (because the first 999 proved dead ends) might result in an innocent man going to prison for 30 years. Bad decisions and bad results occur every day in the justice system, but we just haven’t figured out a system that works better than the one we have yet.

              When I entered law school, I had every intention of becoming a prosecutor and eventually a Judge. I then learned that I didn’t have the stomach for it. But I am grateful for the great prosecutors out there — including one of my best friends.

              • The guy fucked up. He came close to coming right out and saying it, but then he chickened out. There’s the humanity.

                Plus, he’s still a practicing lawyer. In my first year as a lawyer, the senior associate running me said sternly: “Never apologize.” This guy’s just being a lawyer. He knows he screwed the pooch big time but can’t admit it.

                Ironic. Tragic. You name it.

  5. Robots must protect humans. Humans are dangerous to humans. Therefore all humans must be locked up or exterminated. The leading cause of death is life.

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