Many people who are not opposed to the death penalty per se still favor its elimination out of concerns with the accuracy and fairness of our criminal justice system. Those concerns will only be magnified this week with the release of Glenn Ford, who was found to be entirely innocent of the murder of Watchmaker and jeweler Isadore Rozeman in 1983. Prosecutors spent decades fighting appeals but recently threw in the towel and admitted that he was not the man who killed Rozeman. Ford, now 63, had been convicted by an all-white jury despite the lack of a single witness or forensic evidence directly linking him to the murder.
The murder occurred on Nov. 5, 1983. Ford had done some work for Rozeman but insisted that he was his friend and that they sit on his porch often talking and drinking coffee. Rozeman was found face down on the floor with a gunshot in the back of the head. His pockets were turned out. Several teenagers said that they saw Ford in Rozeman’s backyard on the day of the killing. (Ford admitted to being in the shop that day, which was common). Ford was arrested Nov. 8, 1983, on charges of being in possession of stolen items. Eventually, Ford, the Robinson brothers and George Starks were arrested and indicted in Isadore Rozeman’s murder. However, Jake Robinson and his brother refused to testify during Ford’s trial. Jake Robinson asserted his constitutional right to remain silent.
The defense claimed that Ford acted at times as a fence for stolen items. Ford told police about meeting two men that day and one of them, called “O.B.,” asked Ford if he knew anyone who wanted to buy a .38-caliber gun. He said that he was not given the gun but did pawn the jewelry at the shop for the men. That some jewelry was later taken by the killer or killers. Ford later identified Jake Robinson as one of the men, but not his brother. He later identified Henry Robinson as “O.B.”
Police insisted that the killer was left handed. Ford is left-handed.
Ford insisted on the stand that he was being framed and tried to claim the fifth amendment. He also admitted that he moved Shreveport from California to change his life after committing crimes in teens and early 20s. He was represented by an oil and gas lawyer who had never handled a criminal case and at the sentencing stage he was represented by a recent graduate from law school. His father proved a useless witness since he barely knew his son and other witnesses were passing acquaintances. The defense wanted to call Vercie Milo who is the mother of his two children but it could not be arranged.
The all-white jury convicted Ford and sentenced him to death in the electric chair.
Later, Jake Robinson pleaded not guilty when charged in the murder but the shared was dismissed. (He was also charged at the time with an unrelated vehicular homicide charge). The charges against Henry Robinson were also dropped for insufficient evidence to prove he had a part in the crime. However, it turns out that only six days after Rozeman’s murder, informants implicated the Robinson brother — and not Ford — in the murder and multiple sources linked them to the murder weapon.
Ford’s case bounced around the system but in 2000 the Louisiana Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case with instructions to conduct an evidentiary hearing on claims that the prosecution suppressed favorable evidence and that he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to effective counsel and appeal.
Last year, prosecutors informed the federal court that, during an investigation of an unrelated homicide, a “reliable informant” said Jake Robinson admitted to being the one who shot Isadore Rozeman. In a later statement, the informant added that Robinson told him that he used his left hand in the murder.
Prosecutors filed papers with the court conceding a mistake had been made: “In late 2013, credible evidence came to the attention of the undersigned to supporting [sic] a finding that Glenn Ford was neither present at, nor a participant in, the robbery and murder of Isadore Rozeman.”
What is most frightening in this case is not simply with withholding of evidence by the prosecution (for which there has been not discipline) but that a man was sent to death row on the thinnest possible circumstantial evidence. Had his appeals been curtailed (as many have advocated for the criminal justice system), he would not have lived to be see his vindication.
19 thoughts on “Louisiana’s Longest Serving Death Row Inmate Found To Be Innocent Of Murder . . . Thirty Years After His Conviction”
PaulRevereWear— excellent comment. Truth is, only a tiny percentage of
lawyers anywhere have ANY trial experience; civil or criminal. Nearly all lawyers in any city are PI attorneys who merely negotiate (usually very poorly)
a settlement with an insurance company’s lawyer — who usually negotiates the lowest possible offer that won’t shock the conscience of anyone who might try
to get the ;pcal media’s attention.
Nearly all criminal defense lawyers scare their clients into accepting a guilty
plea, Only the few lawyers in town who can attract high net-worth clients actually know something about how to effectively represent a client in court, and who may or may or may not know how to the rules of evidence to suppress
incriminating evidence or be a skilled cross examiner.
Pursuant to Louisiana law, Mr. Ford will receive some financial compensation for being incarcerated for 30 years. The law requires the state to pay $25,000 per year of wrongful incarceration up to a maximum of $250,000 plus up to $80,000 for loss of life opportunities. Assuming he gets the full 80,000, that works out to $11,000 for each year he was deprived of his freedom and experienced the anxieties associated with the death penalty.
I hope he has a good network to help him deal with the changes of the last 30 years.
I agree with blhlls comment above. There are many people who denigrate the public defender system. The appointment of any old or young lawyer from the local bar to handle a criminal case is a travesty.
Criminal law is a specialty. Jury trials are a specialty. In my old hometown of ten thousand lawyers there were a small percentage who could perform a serious criminal jury case. When they used to appoint just any fellow to represent a criminal defendant, before the public defender system got up and going, the results were terrible. Probably 90 percent of the lawyers with a license in Missouri are not fit to try a criminal jury case. One percent might be fit to try a capital murder case.
The assignment of appointed counsel in this case was done in the traditional way: the two attorneys were next on the list of local bar association members. Another traditional way was to grab whatever attorney had the bad luck to be in the courtroom when an attorney was needed. The absence of criminal law experience may have been particularly damaging here because the trial ultimately relied on unreliable scientific testimony from “experts” regarding gunshot residue, fingerprints, and a determination the perpetrator was left-handed. The very idea that a court was free to appoint attorneys with no criminal experience and no jury trial experience in a capital case is mind-boggling.
The justice system at Glenn’s trial was stacked against him from the beginning. What type of fair system would intentionally give him a defense team a man who never had experience in a criminal trial and a recent graduate to represent him in a death penalty sentencing hearing. I’ sure these attorneys gave their best effort but they are have not the experience to try a capital case.
Then there is the suppression of exculpatory evidence. That is unacceptable and the case should have been tossed at that point , or at least retried. Again, the system failed Glenn.
I heard on the radio yesterday the statutory remedy available to Glenn would be $20,000 dollars per year that is capped at $250,000 plus another benefit. I don’t remember what the extra benefit was but based upon the the amount given I remember it was in the low $300,000s. This is hardly enough to monetarily at least compensate. He should sue the county in Federal Court for millions in my view.
What really hits home is Glenn missed out on an entire lifetime of the most able years of his life. That is a tradgedy that cannot be restored. He was a certain victim in this case.
I remember a quote from a prosecutor: “Anybody can convict a guilty defendant, but it takes a really good prosecutor to convict an innocent defendant.”
Another sad story of someone unjustly sentenced. That is why we need to abolish the death penalty. If we believe that every person’s life is precious, then it means that we cannot morally take a life from conception to natural death of any human being. They only time we are compelled to take a life is in self-defense and during wars to protect the people of our country and our fellow man.
From a prejudicial standpoint, things have not changed since the 80’s. Extremists today would have no problem, for example, with an all-atheist jury convicting an innocent Christian of a capital crime. Or a man-hating, all-feminist jury convicting an innocent man of rape. Or an educated jury, believing fuzzy expert witnesses, that lead to the conviction and execution of an innocent man accused of arson. Before dismissing this as a white racist issue, we need to look inward and see how we, ourselves, are no more innocent today than then. With judicial corruption out of control, we’re all at risk of our own passivity, which enables monsters gaining positions of power in the first place.
I really hope this man gets compensation for the huge wrong that has been done to him – and as far as I am concerned that compensation should come right out of the pockets of those who convicted him on NO evidence.
I wish this man a sweet happy life for the remaining time he will have in the free world.
Had he been executed, there would have been no vindication; several officials have gone on record as saying that there’s no reason to re-visit convictions of executed murderers. And, given the limited budgets of the groups that fight such convictions, they (quite reasonably) focus their efforts on the people who can still be saved.
Folks here are thinking in the current forensic mindset. 1983 was a different world. There was no DNA analysis and none of the sophisticated forensics of today. There were no cell phone, computers, etc. You wore BEEPERS for chrissake. Now, I’m not saying this was not a travesty, because it was. But knowledge of history is important.
The American system of ‘justice’ is more concerned with stats than facts. How many have you jailed? How many murderers have you sentenced to death? How will you fight crime in the streets? How many ‘thugs’ will you lock up? Will you be tough on drugs? It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that a number of these LA prosecutors ran for office on the tough on crime, support of the death penalty platform. These deplorable actors would rather kill an innocent man than say they were wrong.
Yours is the logical reaction to such a conviction happening nearly 20 years after the passage of the Civil Right and Voting Rights Bill in the mid-60’s. Jurors in Louisiana still felt comfortably empowered to convict a man of a capital crime without any physical evidence. To compound the offense and offensiveness of the original lapse of justice, the prosecutors from today’s Louisiana fought “for decades” to justify, to protect, to hide this appalling but all too common kind of southern justice.
Does it surprise anyone that an all white jury in Louisiana would convict a black man on flimsy evidence? In 1983? Very sad. I would think Mr. Ford would have a good civil claim against the state if evidence was withheld. Disgusting, but not surprising, unfortunately.
Eyewitness testimony = not very reliable; it’s absence isn’t necessarily a roadway to exoneration. the absence of forensic evidence is more damning to the prosecution. OTOH, people can be innocent without being saints and this man’s criminal history was not one characterized by violence and he had counsel who was out of their depth.
I recall Scalia said once… The state had afforded the defendant the minimum due process and that’s all they are required to have…. I’m glad this court took the extra step…. Will the old prosecutors be charged, disbarred or required to serve the time the wrongfully convicted one did…..
Here are two sentences from the article. I can’t decide which is the more disturbing.
“Ford, now 63, had been convicted by an all-white jury despite the lack of a single witness or forensic evidence directly linking him to the murder”.
“Prosecutors spent decades fighting appeals but recently threw in the towel and admitted that he was not the man who killed Rozeman”.
Well, the wait was no benefit to him! If he’d been executed within a year, he’d be 28 or so with a different body now & free. Injustice is injustice! To be abhored at all times & irrelevant to a good execution policy, except that it would need to have certainty of guilt from the get-go. Generally speaking a single murder might not merit death anyway. A mass killing or several murders would. The bloodiest murderers usually get sent to nice places like Napolean to Isla d’Elba & St Helena, two lovely places I went to as a child. When they make me king of the world, I’ll sort this planet out!
Why can’t the prosecutor’s be held responsible for the treatment of this man, or can they? If they intentionally withheld / suppressed evidence, and these actions resulted in the wrongful incarceration of Mr. Ford (not to mention mental and physical anguish surely experienced in the Angola Penitentiary), there should be accountability. This is unbelievable.
Comments are closed.