By Leonard Pitts
A few words about the high-priced education of Marty Stroud.
Thirty-one years ago, A.M. “Marty” Stroud III was a prosecutor in Louisiana’s Caddo Parish. He was arrogant, narcissistic, judgmental and full of himself. This assessment of Stroud’s character, you should know, comes from Stroud himself.
It is contained in a remarkable letter to the editor of the Shreveport Times regarding a 65-year-old black man named Glenn Ford whom Stroud tried for murder in 1984. When the all-white jury sentenced Ford to death, Stroud and his team went out drinking to celebrate. Meantime, Ford went to Louisiana’s notorious Angola prison.
Last year, he was set free. The current district attorney asked a judge to vacate Ford’s conviction and sentence in the wake of evidence that he was, as he had steadfastly maintained for over 30 years, innocent of the robbery and murder of Shreveport businessman Isadore Rozeman. The exact nature of that evidence has not been revealed, but that it is conclusive is attested to in the district attorney’s capitulation.
We do know this much: Officials are now said to believe another man did the killing. In a motion seeking Ford’s release, they say that if the state had known then what it knows now, “Glenn Ford might not even have been arrested or indicted for this offense.” Which seems pretty ironclad.
And yet, incredibly, Louisiana is fighting Ford’s request for compensation for his 30 lost years, a total that amounts to a relatively measly $330,000 under state law. One is reminded of Florida’s equally niggardly 2011 refusal to compensate Derrick Williams after railroading him into spending 18 years behind bars for a rape he didn’t commit.
But even if he wins, Ford is unlikely to ever enjoy the windfall; he has Stage 4 lung cancer _ he says it went undiagnosed while he was at Angola _ and doctors say he is unlikely to be alive by Thanksgiving.
Ford wants to leave any monies he receives to his grandchildren. The state says he should receive nothing because he hasn’t proven himself “factually innocent.”
In a March 8 editorial, the Shreveport Times called that “hogwash.” In his letter, Stroud co-signed that judgment. But he went further.
There is insufficient space here to do justice to what he wrote. But you will find it — along with a remarkable video interview — at shreveporttimes.com. Suffice it to say, the man is eaten alive by remorse. He rebukes himself for multiple sins, for being too “passive” to follow up on evidence suggesting Ford’s innocence, for never considering the unfairness of striking black jurors from the panel that judged an indigent black man, for not caring that Ford was represented by “counsel who had never tried a criminal case, much less a capital one,” for placing “junk science” into evidence, for caring less about justice than about winning.
He apologizes to the jurors, to the court, to the family of the victim, and to Ford “for all the misery I have caused him and his family.”
And Stroud, now a 63-year-old attorney in private practice, also says this: “No one should be given the ability to impose a sentence of death in any criminal proceeding. 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.”
Some of us consider that a self-evident truth. Yet learning that truth cost Stroud his good opinion of himself and 30 years of another man’s life.
His experience should serve as a warning to those who persist in believing the death penalty is justice. The death penalty, writes Stroud, is “an abomination.” The death penalty is “state-assisted revenge.”
He didn’t always feel that way, but he has paid a high price for his education. And he will continue to pay. After all, Glenn Ford eventually walked free.
Marty Stroud never will.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 N.W. 91 Avenue, Doral, Fla. 33172. Readers may write to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.