Glenn Ford was Louisiana’s longest-serving death row inmate until Tuesday, when he walked free after 30 years behind bars in a notorious maximum security prison. For three decades, he had maintained he didn’t commit the murder of which he was accused and wasn’t present at the time it occurred.
Ford, an African American man, first became a suspect in the murder of Isadore Rozeman, a jeweler and watchmaker for whom Ford occasionally did some yard work, when the girlfriend of a fellow suspect implicated Ford in the murder. Later testifying at his trial, she stated that she “lied about all of it.”
Ford was nonetheless convicted and sentenced to death by an all-white jury on testimony that the shooter was probably left-handed, that there were traces of gun powder particles on his hands, and that fingerprints found on a bag at the scene had more in common with Ford than two alternative suspects, according to the Capital Post Conviction Project of Louisiana. There were no witnesses to the alleged crime, and no weapon found. His two court-appointed lawyers had almost no experience with jury trials or criminal cases, let alone capital cases in which the defendant’s life was on the line. And even though a court later reviewing the conviction agreed that prosecutors had withheld evidence favorable to Ford, it declined to grant him a new trial, reasoning that this evidence would not have made the difference.
What finally changed the prosecutors’ position was a confession by another man who had been a suspect all along that he shot and killed Rozeman, given to the state by a confidential informant from a county police department, according to the Capital Post Conviction Project. The state cited only new “credible evidence.”
“I’ve been locked up almost 30 years for something I didn’t do,” Ford said. “I can’t go back and do anything I should have been doing when I was 35, 38, 40, stuff like that.” He added that his kids were babies when he was hauled off to prison, and those kids now have their own babies.
Ford’s exoneration brings the tally of death row inmates cleared of all charges to 144 nationally and 10 in Louisiana since 1973 (when the U.S. Supreme Court imposed a moratorium on the death penalty and then lifted it three years later), according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Last October, a man was released just days before his death, also from Louisiana’s Angola prison, after spending decades in solitary confinement for a false conviction in a racially charged murder case.
A third death row inmate released from the same Angola prison after being falsely convicted of capital murder testified last month before a Senate committee on the inhumane conditions of solitary confinement on Angola’s death row. “Fairly early during my confinement at Angola, I very seriously considered giving up my legal rights and letting the State execute me,” he said. “No one, no matter how horrible the crimes for which they have been convicted, can endure this lack of stimulation, contact, and activity for very long.”