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A Prosecutor Repents

Thirty years ago, he sent an innocent man to death row. Now he confesses his guilt

[UPDATE: I removed the video, which played automatically, annoying the world. — RD]

In Louisiana, a criminal prosecutor who secured a death sentence 30 years ago for a man who was recently exonerated of the crime and released from death row is now speaking out against the death penalty. From his letter to the editor of the Shreveport Times:

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.

The prosecutor, Marty Stroud, says he did not send a man he knew to be innocent to death row, but that he was so sure that Ford was guilty that he (Stroud) was careless in presenting his case. More:

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.

Read the whole thing.

This is why a decade and a half ago I concluded that the death penalty was unjust. It’s not that there aren’t plenty of bad men who deserve to die. It’s that I lost faith in the ability of the machinery of justice to deliver it without error — this, after a scandal involving the forensics lab in Oklahoma revealed that an incompetent lab technician gave testimony that helped send men to death row.

I believe that the Catholic Catechism is correct: when bloodless means are sufficient to secure the safety of a society, then the society must satisfy itself with them. It is possible that some societies have no effective means of securing themselves justly without using the death penalty. We are not one of those societies.