For 30 years, Glenn Ford never experienced the cold feel of a glass on his lips as he took a drink of water. He never ate with silverware, opened his own door or made decisions about his movements.
He’s doing those things now after being released from prison earlier this month after serving 30 years on Louisiana’s Death Row at the state’s notorious Angola Prison for a crime he did not commit. Since 1985, he’s been locked away in a single-occupant cell with only a television to keep him company.
Ford was convicted by an all-White jury in 1984 for the November 1983 murder of Isadore Rozeman, a White jeweler for whom Ford had done yard work.
Pleadings filed in 2012 by Ford’s attorneys at the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana (CPCPL), and obtained by the AFRO, detail how prosecutors withheld evidence implicating other suspects in the case from Ford’s defense team and used peremptory challenges to exclude Blacks from the jury. CPCPL also presented evidence as to the professional incompetence of Ford’s court-appointed trial counsel.
The pleadings also highlight the general tone of racial discrimination that permeated Ford’s court proceedings. For example, during the jury selection process, the court reporter transcribed the responses of White jury candidates as ‘yes sir,’ while transcribing the responses of Black candidates as ‘yes suh.’ Of the prosecution’s eight peremptory challenges, six were used to exclude Black candidates from the jury. For his trial, Ford’s peers would be all-White.
“That was no accident,” said Gary Clements, the attorney for Ford and director of the CPCPL. “The [District Attorney] kicked Black potential jurors off the case in a fashion that we believe was completely unconstitutional.”
Neither of the two attorneys appointed by the court to handle the guilt and penalty phases of Ford’s 1984 trial had any trial experience—civil or criminal, Clements said. Ford’s lead counsel during the guilt phase of the trial was a transactional attorney specializing in oil and gas deals. His counsel for the penalty phase was a personal injury attorney only two years out of law school. The attorney’s were paid the equivalent of $2.63 an hour from the state of Louisiana.
Christopher Bracey, a law professor at the George Washington University Law School, and an expert in race relations and criminal procedure, explained that while in 1984 the U.S. Supreme Court established the requirement that poor defendants receive court appointed counsel in a case known as Strickland v. Washington, the bar for what is considered effective representation is extremely low.
“It’s lawyers who are actually setting the bar,” he said. “If they set the bar too high, they would be subjecting themselves to the possibility of being declared ineffective counsel in any number of cases. The incentive among lawyers would be to lower that standard to make sure that it can be more easily met.”
Even though a challenge under Strickland was attempted on Ford’s behalf not long after his initial conviction, the generally low standard for effectiveness of counsel ensured that Ford remained on Death Row.
In late 2013, the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s office contacted Ford’s attorneys at the CPCPL after a confidential informant testified before a grand jury and indicated that another man, not Ford, was responsible for Rozeman’s murder back in 1983.
On March 11, 2014, at the age of 64—one year before he becomes eligible to receive Social Security federal retirement benefits calculated on the basis of lifetime earnings—Glenn Ford walked out of prison.
His knees shot, Ford left with a debit card that contained his accumulated net wealth, $20.04, and two medium-sized boxes containing all his worldly possessions.
Less than a month after his release, Ford has not yet spoken with the media. He’s adjusting to life outside of prison walls, Clements said.
Soon, a new team of attorneys will attempt to get him some measure of compensation from the state of Louisiana for losing almost half of his life behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit