Confessions of a Prosecutor Who Sent an Innocent to Death Row

A lawyer apologizes to the man he helped wrongfully convict, 30 years later.

James Cridland/Flickr

Glenn Ford spent 30 years on death row for a murder he did not commit. Sentenced to die in the electric chair, he was sent to a Louisiana penitentiary in 1985. "My sons, when I left, was babies,” he said. “Now they’re grown men with babies.” Earlier this month, he was released at age 64, but his story doesn't end happily. He has stage-four lung cancer. He is expected to die within months. And the state of Louisiana doesn't want to pay the $330,000 it owes for destroying his life, as The Shreveport Times noted in an editorial denouncing the state's behavior.

The injustice is so outrageous that a former prosecutor who helped send Ford to death row, A.M. "Marty" Stroud III, has spoken out in a letter to the newspaper. He begins by denouncing "the audacity of the state's effort to deny Mr. Ford any compensation," noting, "there was no technicality here. Crafty lawyering did not secure the release of a criminal." He insists that Ford should be "completely compensated."

But the most extraordinary part of his letter comes when he turns from the subject of remuneration to larger injustices present in Louisiana's justice system. His letter is worth reading in full. The following excerpts are especially newsworthy given the fact that other convicts were likely affected by what is described:

  • Stroud disavows the death penalty, observing that he was only 33 years old at the time of Ford's case and had no business making decisions that could result in someone's death. "No one should be given the ability to impose a sentence of death in any criminal proceeding," the former prosecutor declared. "We are simply incapable of devising a system that can fairly and impartially impose a sentence of death because we are all fallible human beings."
  • He describes how prosecutors missed exculpatory evidence. "Had I been more inquisitive, perhaps the evidence would have come to light years ago. But I wasn't, and my inaction contributed to the miscarriage of justice in this matter. Based on what we had, I was confident that the right man was being prosecuted and I was not going to commit resources to investigate what I considered to be bogus claims that we had the wrong man. My mindset was wrong and blinded me to my purpose of seeking justice, rather than obtaining a conviction of a person who I believed to be guilty. I did not hide evidence, I simply did not seriously consider that sufficient information may have been out there that could have led to a different conclusion."
  • "I did not question the unfairness of Mr. Ford having appointed counsel who had never tried a criminal jury case much less a capital one," he writes. "It never concerned me that the defense had insufficient funds to hire experts or that defense counsel shut down their firms for substantial periods of time to prepare for trial." Very few prosecutors object in such circumstances.
  • His letter alleges that living conditions in the Louisiana penitentiary are known by the people in charge of it to be abysmal: "Mr. Ford spent 30 years of his life in a small, dingy cell. His surroundings were dire. Lighting was poor, heating and cooling were almost non-existent, food bordered on the uneatable. Nobody wanted to be accused of 'coddling' a death row inmate."
  • He refers to "dubious testimony from a forensic pathologist," adding, "All too late, I learned that the testimony was pure junk science at its evil worst." One wonders how many criminal trials that same person testified in.
  • He confesses to what he and his colleagues did after securing the death penalty: "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.'"

At the conclusion of his letter, he states, "I end with the hope that providence will have more mercy for me than I showed Glenn Ford. But, I am also sobered by the realization that I certainly am not deserving of it." Having publicly said all that, he is at least more deserving than the many prosecutors who've behaved equally badly or worse and never acknowledged their mistakes or worked to advocate for reforms.