Access to justice in Louisiana, particularly for poor or minority citizens, has been a problem for decades. Louisiana has consistently limited funding for public defenders and, as a result, has left thousands of defendants without proper representation.
To mitigate the judicial crowding, some parishes have ordered non-criminal lawyers to represent the indigent. In some cases, judges have called upon personal injury lawyers in Louisiana, or insurance or tax attorneys, to represent defendants in criminal trials, including murder cases where a defendant could face life in prison.
The Life and Death of Glenn Ford
In 1984, Glenn Ford was convicted of murder in Louisiana. Ford spent almost 30 years on death row, in Louisiana’s Angola prison, until new evidence revealed he did not commit the murder. He was exonerated in 2014, but tragically died of lung cancer about a year later.
In a 60 Minutes interview from 2015, Bill Whitaker spoke to the prosecutor who sent Ford to prison: Marty Stroud from Shreveport, Louisiana.
Stroud admits the cards were stacked against Ford from the beginning; Ford’s court-appointed lawyers had never practiced criminal law.
“There were no African Americans on the jury,” explained Stroud. “So, when Glenn Ford walks into that courtroom, he’s got a count of zero and two against him, and a fast ball’s coming right at his head for strike three.”
Ford was sent to one of the most infamous lock-ups in America, Angola, a maximum-security prison known for harsh conditions, including summer temperatures that reached 104 degrees on the death row block.
According to Dale Cox, the current district attorney of Caddo Parish, Glenn Ford received “delayed justice,” but justice nonetheless.
According to Cox, the fear of putting an innocent man to death is a risk all of us must be willing to take in order to secure peace and an effective criminal justice system.
Compensation for the Wrongfully Accused
Glenn Ford was entitled to $330,000 in compensation for his wrongful conviction and mistreatment at Angola. The state is currently denying Ford’s family the opportunity to collect, after the Louisiana Supreme Court announced it would not consider the two lawsuits brought on by Ford’s family.
Last year, a state district judge ruled that Ford wasn’t eligible to receive compensation because “the trial evidence showed that he was involved in lesser related crimes.”
More specifically, it’s been alleged that Ford knew the robbery of the Shreveport jeweler, Isadore Rozeman, was going to take place and did nothing about it.
The state’s compensation law excludes compensation for anyone who committed any crimes based upon the same set of facts used in the original conviction, and allows a judge to consider any evidence regardless of whether it’s admissible or excluded from the criminal trial.
Moreover, exonerated individuals in Louisiana must prove their innocence in any related crimes in order to collect. This is in opposition to states like California, where the state pays without the need to prove innocence for any related crimes.
Ford was found to be an accessory to armed robbery after the fact; he was also found to have possessed stolen items relating to the same crime. Because of this, Ford’s 30 years on death row will not be compensated.
Improving Access to Justice
Louisiana Rep. Cedric Glover is currently fighting for improved access to justice in cases similar to Ford’s. Glover is attempting to revise Louisiana’s current compensation legislation, and will bring his second attempt forward some time next year (the first attempt was defeated).
According to Andrea Armstrong, who is managing Ford’s estate, “It is not the end of [Glenn’s] story…”
Access to justice is relevant to everyone in Louisiana, not just the wrongfully convicted. Everyone has the right to qualified representation, lest we forget what happened to Glenn Ford and his family.
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