Regarding the July 5 obituary for Glenn Ford, “Freed after years on death row”:
Ford, imprisoned nearly half his life for a murder he didn’t commit, died from lung cancer. Socially, though, he died 30 years ago — in part because of our nation’s underfunded public defender systems and prosecutorial misconduct . As an intern for Innocence Project New Orleans in 2010, I saw these problems firsthand.
Because public defender systems are so underfunded, lawyers are compelled to represent more people than is possible, increasing the likelihood of wrongful convictions. On the other side of the problem is government abuse of power: During Ford’s initial trial, prosecutors withheld evidence favorable to his defense. Disturbingly, Ford’s nightmare isn’t unique. During my internship, I befriended John Thompson. He spent 18 years in prison — 14 on death row — for a crime he didn’t commit. In his case, prosecutors also withheld evidence favorable to his defense; the gross injustice of government abuse is a reality for many more defendants.
Ford filed a petition seeking compensation after his exoneration. His request was denied because, according to a local district court judge , he failed to prove by “clear and convincing evidence that he was factually innocent.” This is clear for me: A criminal justice system built on the principle of equal justice under law needs more accountability.
Theodore Shaw, New Orleans