Former Louisiana prosecutor A.M. "Marty" Stroud III made a mistake 30 years ago that cost an innocent man named Glenn Ford nearly half a lifetime of freedom.
Now, Stroud is sharing his story, both as a cautionary tale and as a call to action for ending the death penalty. Stroud appeared on MSNBC’s “PoliticsNation" with Al Sharpton Wednesday night with a warning to prosecutors:
"They should take heed in the fact that if something does go wrong, as it did in this case, it will be with them until the day they leave this earth."
Ford was exonerated in 2014 after nearly 30 years on death row. He emerged from Louisiana's Angola Prison sick and penniless. He's now terminally ill with stage 4 lung cancer. A judge last week denied Ford restitution for his years of wrongful incarceration.
Last month, roughly a year after Ford's release from prison, a Shreveport Times editorial called for the state to give Ford his due. In response, Stroud wrote an emotional op-ed, apologizing for his role in Ford's conviction.
“I feel like a big yoke has been taken off my shoulder that I’ve carried for years since I served in the district attorney’s office," Stroud, 64, told The Huffington Post in an interview Friday. "As far as total peace, I don’t think that will ever occur. I think the stain is too great to ever completely erase."
Stroud and Ford were roughly the same age when their lives first crossed in 1984. Stroud, who is white, was a self-described "arrogant, narcissistic, judgmental" Louisiana attorney. Ford, who is black, was a murder defendant who was facing an all-white jury. His defense attorneys did not come from legal aid, but rather they were pro bono attorneys on restrictive budgets whose prior experiences had been in oil and gas or personal injury, and had not litigated criminal trials before.
Stroud successfully led the prosecution, convicting Ford for the 1983 murder of Isadore Rozeman, a Shreveport jewelry store owner and watchmaker. Jurors condemned Ford to death.
Stroud said he faults himself for being "too passive" during the case, and for not taking seriously rumors that people other than Ford committed the murder. Ford was freed after the prosecutor's office told a judge it had discovered evidence that others were responsible for the crime. No one else has been arrested.
"Prosecutors should want justice, not convictions," Stroud said. "We still deal in the politics of blood."
Death penalty cases are high-priority and high-profile for prosecutors' offices, and a successful capital case can be a badge of achievement for a young assistant district attorney.
"I thought when I was prosecuting death penalty cases, I was doing them in the name of justice and championing the interests of the victim's family," Stroud said. "I wanted to show our office was tough on crime."
Stroud said he observed that prosecutors with several death penalty convictions on their resumes often ran for higher office, as a judge or legislator.
"This is the Deep South, and the death penalty is still favored among the folks in this state," Stroud noted. "You won’t see any politician running on an anti-death penalty plank."
Stroud said he's changed in the years Ford spent in prison. He said he now thinks death penalty prosecutions are "a badge of showing how out of touch we are with other civilized societies."
"I don't know where for the life of me we get off preaching to other countries about their criminal justice systems," Stroud said. "We need to look inward. We're with the likes of the Yemen and North Korea and Iran."
"We can't trust the government to fix potholes," he continued. "Why should we believe they can design a death penalty system that's fair?"
Stroud hasn't yet apologized face-to-face with Ford, who has been in hospice care.
Stroud said he rejects the pro-death penalty argument that there's no proof a guilty person has ever been executed.
"I think the number of people exonerated since '72 should say something," Stroud said. "If I were going to fly on a plane and went up and bought a ticket and asked, ‘How is your safety record?’ and they said, ‘We had 142 crashes since 1972, but don't worry about it,' I don’t think I’m going to get on that plane.
"The bottom line is, the death penalty does not encompass justice," he said. "It’s little more than state-assisted revenge. And I don’t think revenge falls within any definition of justice which I know. Justice is subverted so many times for the will -- for the winning. Everyone wants to win, so the ends justify the means."
CORRECTION: This article initially stated that Ford's original lawyers had been deemed "ineffective counsel" by the Louisiana Supreme Court. Ford's writ to that effect was denied. Additional language has been added regarding the background of Ford's lawyers.