"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Death the Supreme Court Should Remember

Glenn Ford
This photo of Glenn Ford was taken by his lawyer on March 11, 2014—
Ford's first day of freedom after 30 years in prison—near St. Francisville,
LA (Gary Clements)
Early on Monday morning in New Orleans, Louisiana, Glenn Ford died of lung cancer. He was 65.

A few hours later, his name appeared in an opinion dissenting from the Supreme Court’s decision in Glossip v. Gross, a case that challenged Oklahoma’s use of a lethal-injection drug that death-row inmates said risked causing them severe pain.

By a vote of 5-4, with the conservative justices in the majority, the court rejected the inmates’ challenge. That was no surprise. More striking was Justice Stephen Breyer’s 46-page dissent, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, saying it was “highly likely” that the death penalty itself violates the Constitution.

One of the reasons Justice Breyer gave for his argument was the “disturbing” rate of exonerations of people sentenced to death — 115 since 2002 alone.

Justice Breyer cited several examples to make his point, including that of Mr. Ford, who was convicted of murder in 1984 and sentenced to die, although he maintained his innocence all along. Three decades later, in March 2014, he was exonerated.

In March of this year, the lead prosecutor in Mr. Ford’s case, A. M. “Marty” Stroud III, wrote a letter to the editor of the Shreveport Times apologizing to Mr. Ford “for all the misery I have caused him and his family.” He pointed out the many flaws in the case against Mr. Ford, including defense lawyers who had never argued a criminal case before, an intentionally all-white jury, the existence of evidence that would have cleared him, and Mr. Stroud’s own failure to properly investigate other possible suspects.

“I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning,” Mr. Stroud wrote. He said Mr. Ford deserves “every penny” the state owed him under its compensation statute. (At the time of his death, he had received a total of $20, which the prison gave him upon his release.)

Glenn Ford
The public apology was remarkable, but it wasn’t much good to Mr. Ford at that point. He was already dying of metastatic lung cancer that had gone untreated while he was behind bars.

It’s worth remembering people like Mr. Ford on days like this, particularly in light of the dismissive mockery of Justice Breyer’s profound challenge to the court by Justice Antonin Scalia, who called his colleague’s dissent “gobbledy-gook.”

Justice Scalia has previously denied that an innocent person has ever been executed. In response to Justice Breyer’s charge that the death penalty is unreliable, he wrote that in the case of exonerations, “it is convictions, not punishments, that are unreliable.”

That distinction is meaningless in Glenn Ford’s case. Louisiana may not have executed him in the technical sense. But in its zeal to convict and punish him without regard for the evidence, in its insistence on imprisoning him for decades despite proof of his innocence, and in its failure to give him proper medical care once he was under the state’s control, the state effectively carried out its sentence of death.

Source: The New York Times, Jesse Wegman, June 30, 2015. This story is included with an NYT Opinion subscription.

Report an error, an omission: deathpenaltynews@gmail.com