The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Innocent man who spent 30 years on death row died hours before Supreme Court justices cited him

Glenn Ford, the exonerated death-row inmate. (WAFB-TV 9 via AP)
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In a dissent Monday arguing that the death penalty may be unconstitutional, Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who was joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, pointed to examples of innocent men exonerated after decades on death row.

One man they cited — Glenn Ford — was exonerated last year after nearly 30 years on death row, and his case drew additional attention earlier this year after the prosecutor who sent him to death row publicly apologized.

But just hours before his name was mentioned in a Supreme Court dissent, Ford died of lung cancer. An attorney for Ford said he died shortly after 2 a.m. on Monday, about eight hours before the Supreme Court’s decision on a lethal-injection case landed.

The justices highlighted Ford’s story as one that exemplified problems with a death-penalty system they decried as flawed and unreliable. In Ford’s case, they cited the recent admission by Marty Stroud, the prosecutor, that he was “not as interested in justice as [he] was in winning.”

Ford was diagnosed with lung cancer shortly after he was released from the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola last year. During the 15 months he was free, he filed lawsuits arguing that he was wrongfully imprisoned and that he was denied necessary medical care after signs emerged suggesting he might have cancer.

“At the time of his release, he was the longest-serving death row inmate in the United States,” William Most, his attorney, said in a statement. “The state has so far denied Glenn’s petition under Louisiana’s wrongful conviction compensation statute; all Glenn received for his nearly thirty years on death row was $20 for a bus ride home from prison. Shortly after his release, Glenn was diagnosed with lung cancer.”

Stroud told The Post in an interview that Ford’s situation “shows why the death penalty is just an abomination.” In that interview earlier this year, the former prosecutor said he was prompted to apologize after he read about Ford’s problems getting the state to pay him.

Ford was sentenced to death for killing a watchmaker who ran a jewelry store. And while wrongfully imprisoned inmates in Louisiana can receive up to $250,000 in compensation, the state argued in court filings that he should not be compensated because he sold items that were stolen from the jewelry store.

Before he died, attorneys say Ford was able to visit his children in California, where he was raised by his grandmother. He was 65, with nearly half of those years spent behind bars.