When Glenn Ford walked out of prison for the first time in 30 years, he had a state-issued debit card for $20. His prison account had $0.24. Everything he owned fit into two cardboard boxes.
Until he was freed last March, Ford, now 65, had been one of the longest-serving death row inmates in the United States.
He was convicted in 1984, but then exonerated of first-degree murder after a new informant came forward and cleared him of the crime.
His former lawyer, Gary Clements, was by his side on his client’s first day of freedom.
“Nobody ever finds out the truth. Sometimes they don’t find out in time. Here they did,” Clements said. “That’s a blessing. To say that justice has arrived now, it’s a little 30-years-too-late.”
The person responsible for putting Ford behind bars is Marty Stroud, who prosecuted the original case back in 1984.
Stroud has now apologized to Ford, writing in a letter to the editor of the Shreveport Times in Shreveport, Louisiana, “I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning. ... I apologize to Glenn Ford for all the misery I have caused him and his family.”
“That case, I’ll never be able to put it to rest,” Stroud told “Nightline.”
Ford’s case began in 1983, when Isadore Rozeman, a local watch dealer in Shreveport, was found shot dead inside his home repair shop. Within days, the police zeroed in on Ford, who had done yard work for the victim.
Ford was put on trial and after seven days. Even though there were no eyewitnesses and no murder weapon, the jury came back with a guilty verdict and a death sentence, sending Ford to death row.
At the time, Stroud said he was “very pleased” with the verdict and went out and celebrated. But now, he is saying it wasn’t a fair fight.
“The deck was stacked on one end,” he said.
Ford’s court-appointed defense team had almost no experience and no resources.
“The lawyers had never even stepped foot in the courtroom before,” Clements said. “They never tried a case and here they are defending a capital case.”
Stroud reluctantly admitted he further stacked the deck against Ford by ensuring that the jury was all white.
“I knew I was excluding individuals we felt would not seriously consider the death penalty,” he said. “Looking back on it, I was not as sensitive to the issue of race as I am now.”
Ford’s outmatched defense team was also never told about the confidential informants working for law enforcement who pointed the finger at two other suspects, brothers Henry and Jake Robinson, for Rozeman’s murder.
Ford had told police the brothers gave him some items to pawn -- items, Ford later learned, that were stolen from the murdered watch dealer’s home.
While Ford sat on death row, the brothers remained free and, according to authorities, may be responsible for five other homicides. Both brothers are now in jail charged with other crimes. Neither, however, is charged with Rozeman’s murder.
Ford’s current attorney, William Most, said Ford’s case challenges people’s notion about how this nation works.
“The guy who didn’t commit the murder is the one who is put in jail and sentenced the death,” Most said. “And the ones who were part of it were let free to commit other crimes.”
Ford would still be on death row today if not for a confidential informant who told police in 2013 that Jake Robinson confessed to him regarding the killing of Isadore Rozeman.
In Louisiana, exonerated former inmates like Ford are eligible for as much as $330,000 in compensation payments. But when Ford petitioned for the money a judge denied his request, saying that while Ford didn’t kill Rozeman, he was not completely innocent because he may have known about the shooting beforehand because of his communication with the brothers.
It’s a claim Ford fiercely denies.
So, his proponents argue, after being locked up for 30 years, the state turned its back on Ford and left him virtually penniless.
“If we truly have a system of justice in this country, Glenn would be compensated for what was done to him,” Most said. “So the extent of whether we have a system of justice, we’ll see -- but, you know, I see no justice in Glenn’s story.”
Stroud admitted that he should have done more to help Ford, saying in his letter to the Shreveport Times that Ford “deserved every penny owed to him,” and that “to deny Mr. Ford any compensation for the horrors he suffered ... is appalling.”
“It’s an extremely big deal for Marty Stroud, the lead prosecutor to do this,” Clements said. “He could have just sent an apology to Glenn, but he put it out in his community.”
But now, Ford needs that restitution money more than ever. Just months after his release, he was given a different kind of death sentence. He was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer.
He currently survives on donations and is cared for by a staff of volunteers, including John Thompson, another exonerated prisoner, who now operates a home for exonerees.
Ford is now much frailer and easily fatigued, having lost half his body weight. He said he was shocked when Stroud published that letter apologizing to him and his family.
When Stroud wanted to apologize to Ford in person, Ford had mixed feelings about seeing the man who put him away for 30 years. But he granted the meeting, and “Nightline” was there with cameras rolling.
“I thought about this for a long, long time,” Stroud told him. “I want you to know that I am very sorry. It’s a stain on me that will be with me until I go to my grave, and I wasn’t a very good person at all. I apologize for that.”
Ford said anger is not his driving force and he holds nothing against the former prosecutor. But after having 30 years taken away from him, Ford reluctantly told Stroud, “I’m sorry. I can’t forgive you.”