Glenn Ford, who spent more than 29 years in a notorious Louisiana prison before his release from death row after a judge ruled that he had been wrongfully convicted of murder, died June 29 in New Orleans. He was 65.
“His death was announced by the Innocence Project New Orleans, a legal advocacy organization.The cause was lung cancer, which was diagnosed shortly after Mr. Ford was released from prison in March 2014.
Mr. Ford’s ordeal dated back to Nov. 5, 1983, when Isadore Rozeman, a jeweler in Shreveport, La., was found dead of a gunshot wound in his small shop.
Three days later, Mr. Ford, who was 34 at the time, was charged with possession of stolen property, after he allegedly pawned items taken from Rozeman’s store.
Mr. Ford, who was born in Shreveport, had spent most of his life in California, where he had a history of drug problems but no record of violent crime. In his early 30s, he moved back to Shreveport, where he supported himself by doing odd jobs, including yard work for Rozeman.
In 1984, Mr. Ford and three other men were indicted for murder and conspiracy to commit armed robbery. Charges against one of the defendants were soon dismissed.
Mr. Ford, an African American, went on trial before an all-white jury in Shreveport in November 1984. His two court-appointed attorneys did not specialize in criminal law and had never tried a case before a jury.
The bulk of the evidence against Mr. Ford came from the girlfriend of another suspect in the case. There were no eyewitnesses and no murder weapon was found, but a local coroner testified that the fatal shot had been fired by someone who was left-handed. Mr. Ford was left-handed.
On Dec. 5, 1984, Mr. Ford was convicted of murder. Two months later, he was sentenced to death. Charges against the remaining defendants, two brothers named Jake and Henry Robinson, were dropped.
Mr. Ford entered the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, a prison widely known for its brutal conditions. He was put in solitary confinement in an 8-by-10-foot cell.
Various appeals were turned down until 2000, when the Louisiana Supreme Court ordered that hearings be held on whether evidence had been suppressed and whether Mr. Ford had received ineffective counsel during his trial.
In 2007, the Innocence Project, a national organization dedicated to freeing wrongfully convicted prisoners, filed a brief on Mr. Ford’s behalf. The organization’s lawyers charged that the testimony in the case was “baseless and unreliable,” that Mr. Ford’s lawyers were incompetent and that the evidence against Mr. Ford was circumstantial.
Nevertheless, state courts ruled against Mr. Ford in 2009 and 2011.
In June 2012, the district attorney’s office of Caddo Parish, where Shreveport is located, filed new documents in federal court saying new “exculpatory evidence” had been discovered concerning the murder of Rozeman.
During an investigation into an unrelated homicide, an informant told prosecutors that one of the Robinson brothers had shot Rozeman and that Mr. Ford had nothing to do with the killing. The identity of the witness remains sealed by a court order. The Robinson brothers are behind bars for other crimes.
On March 11, 2014, Mr. Ford’s murder conviction was voided by a state judge. He was released on March 11, 2014, after 29 years, three months and five days behind bars. Because of worsening health, he had not been outdoors in seven years.
Mr. Ford was given a debit card — which didn’t exist when he entered prison — for $20. He also got to keep the money in his prison bank account: 4 cents.
Asked if had any resentment, Mr. Ford said, “Yeah, ’cause I’ve been locked up almost 30 years for something I didn’t do.”
According to Louisiana law, people wrongfully imprisoned are eligible for a maximum compensation of $250,000, plus up to $80,000 for “loss of life opportunities.”
The office of the Louisiana attorney general, Buddy Caldwell, filed a petition to deny any claim by Mr. Ford, arguing that he was not “factually innocent” of “any crime based upon the same set of facts.”
In March 2015, a state judge ruled that Mr. Ford was not eligible for compensation, saying even if he was not guilty of murder, “he did not have clean hands.”
Less than two months after Mr. Ford’s release from prison, doctors discovered that he had lung cancer. He lived in a New Orleans apartment provided by a nonprofit group and, in his final year of life, gave speeches about his experiences with the criminal justice system.
Glenn Ford was born Oct. 22, 1949, in Shreveport and grew up in Riverside, Calif. He had an 11th-grade education.
He was never married, but his survivors include several children and grandchildren.
At his death, Mr. Ford had two federal lawsuits pending against police and prosecutors and was seeking punitive damages for his years in prison. In a separate lawsuit, he sought redress for poor medical treatment.
In March, A.M. Stroud III, one of the prosecutors who sent Mr. Ford to prison, wrote an article for the Shreveport Times, apologizing for his role in the case.
“Glenn Ford was an innocent man,” he wrote, adding that the case was a prime example of why the death penalty should be abolished.
“Glenn Ford should be completely compensated to every extent possible because of the flaws of a system that effectively destroyed his life,” Stroud wrote. “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.”
After 32 years, the killing of Isadore Rozeman is now officially unsolved.