World

Exoneration a bitter pill after 30 years on death row

Ed Pilkington

Glenn Ford, the longest-serving death row inmate in the US, has been exonerated of his murder charge and freed from prison.

Former death row inmate Glenn Ford.

Glenn Ford has been freed from the notorious Angola prison in Louisiana, having lived under the shadow of the death sentence for 30 years. He becomes one of the longest-serving death row inmates in United States history to be exonerated.

Ford was released earlier this week on the order of a judge in Shreveport, after Louisiana state prosecutors indicated they could no longer stand by his conviction. In late 2013 the state notified Ford's lawyers that a confidential informant had come forward with new information implicating another man who had been among four co-defendants originally charged in the case.

He was sentenced to death in 1984 for the murder the previous November of Isadore Rozeman, an older white man who ran a Shreveport jewellery and watch repair shop.

The defendant had worked as an odd-jobs man for Rozeman. In interviews with police, Ford said that he had been asked to pawn a .38 revolver and some jewellery similar to that taken from Rozeman's shop at the time of the murder by another man who was among the initial suspects.

After his release Ford said he did harbour some resentment at being wrongly jailed: "Yeah, cause I've been locked up [for] almost 30 years for something I didn't do. I can't go back and do anything I should have been doing when I was 35, 38, 40, stuff like that."

Ford's conviction bears all the hallmarks of the glaring ­inconsistencies and inadequacies of the US justice system that are repeatedly found in cases of exoneration. The fact that, despite serious qualms among top judges about his conviction, this innocent man was kept on death row for so long is certain to be seized upon by anti-death penalty campaigners.

Jury composition
Among the many all too typical problems with his prosecution was the composition of the jury.

An African-American, Ford was sentenced to death by a jury that had been carefully selected by prosecutors to be exclusively white.

His legal representation at trial was woefully inexperienced. The lead defence counsel was a specialist in the law relating to oil and gas exploration and had never fought a case in front of a jury; the second attorney was two years out of law school and working at the time of the trial on small automobile accident insurance cases.

At the trial the state was unable to call any eyewitnesses to the crime, nor was it able to produce a murder weapon.

Instead, Ford was convicted largely on the testimony of a witness who was not a detached observer – she was the girlfriend of another man initially suspected of the murder.

Under cross-examination the witness, Marvella Brown, admitted in front of the jury that she had given false testimony. "I did lie to the court … I lied about it all," she said.

Ford becomes the 144th death row inmate to be exonerated over the past four decades. – © Guardian News & Media 2014

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