The executioner haunts Damon Thibodeaux.
Nightmares yank him back to the 8-by-10-foot cell that confines him to solitary 23 hours a day. Loneliness overwhelms him; despair crushes his spirit. He wants to scream: “I’m innocent.” He knows it won’t matter.
The guards come for him, strap him to the table and push a needle into his arm. A lethal serum flows into his veins. Soon it will be over.
He jolts awake, his heart pounding.
The prison chains are gone and he’s lying in his one-room Minneapolis apartment, 1,200 miles from the Louisiana penitentiary where he waited to die for a murder he didn’t commit.Video (02:15): Thibodeaux begins again and finds freedom on the road.
Thibodeaux is free from death row. Now, after more than 15 years in prison, will he be able to find his place in a world that raced ahead without him? Can he break free of a past that for so long kept him in chains?
A girl goes missing
It was a hot Louisiana summer day on Thursday, July 18, 1996, and Thibodeaux was a 22-year-old deckhand on a Mississippi River barge. After work that day, he went to visit relatives — Dawn and C.J. Champagne. He had come to New Orleans three weeks earlier for a wedding, then stayed to be closer to his mother and his sister and to work on the river.
After drinking late into the night, Thibodeaux slept at the Champagnes’ apartment. He was still there at 5:15 Friday afternoon when their 14-year-old daughter, Crystal Champagne, left to walk to a nearby Winn-Dixie supermarket.
She never returned.
Thibodeaux and the family scoured the neighborhood through that night and into the next day while the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office launched an investigation. Thibodeaux had returned to his mother’s home to sleep when sheriff’s deputies knocked on his door, searching for answers.
Thibodeaux wanted to find Crystal, his step-cousin, as much as anyone and agreed to go with them and answer questions.
Minutes later, the missing-person case became a murder investigation. A former neighbor of the Champagnes found the girl’s body in a wooded area along the Mississippi River beneath the Huey P. Long Bridge, about 5 miles from the family’s home in Westwego.
Thibodeaux, whose only previous run-ins with the law were for two misdemeanor marijuana possession convictions, waived his right to an attorney and spent the next 2½ hours sitting alone in a room, anxious and exhausted. He hadn’t eaten or slept much over the past 30 hours.
Court records and interviews reveal what happened next. The investigators hammered him about the girl’s death. When he said he knew nothing about it, they accused him of lying. They told him that Crystal’s family didn’t corroborate his whereabouts or his story. They said the evidence showed he raped and murdered the girl. They suggested he might not remember, that sometimes people black out and kill their victims without even knowing it.
And the polygraph test that he took at 1 a.m.? They told him he failed it.
Thibodeaux fell to the floor, spent and afraid.
Investigators told him he would be labeled a child rapist and murderer in prison. They graphically described a three-drug execution cocktail that would drip into his veins and burn. Confess, they said, and he might get leniency.
“They were never going to let me out until I gave them what they wanted,” Thibodeaux said. “It’s not about what you believe you did, it’s about trying to get away.”
No evidence, but a confession
At 4:40 a.m. Sunday, after nine hours of interrogation, Thibodeaux confessed, stitching together a story with details he gleaned from his interrogators.
“I didn’t — I didn’t know that I had done it,” he told investigators. “I would say that I got scared, so I killed her.”
He passed out on the way to jail. “When I woke up, I knew the damage was done,” he said. “You can scream as loud as you want, but no one is hearing.”
Within 36 hours, new facts about the crime emerged — details that didn’t match Thibodeaux’s confession.
He confessed to rape; the autopsy showed no sexual contact. He said he used his hands to choke her; the autopsy showed she wasn’t choked by hand. He said he hit her with his hand; the autopsy showed she was bludgeoned with a heavy object, her skull fractured. He said he left her lying face down; she was left face up.
Six weeks later, forensic results on 86 pieces of physical evidence confirmed there was no rape, no sexual contact and nothing that connected Thibodeaux to the girl, her body, clothing or crime scene.
But prosecutors had his confession to rape and murder.
“A confession is the most powerful, incriminating evidence law enforcement can obtain,” said Steve Kaplan, a Minneapolis lawyer who later became one of Thibodeaux’s lead post-conviction attorneys. “Once the jury hears that confession, you’re 95 percent on your way to conviction. The average juror can’t believe anyone would give a false confession, especially to a heinous crime.”
But since 1989, the Innocence Project has found that 31 percent of 330 DNA exonerees were convicted based on false confessions, admissions or guilty pleas.
Many who falsely confess said they did so thinking it would put a stop to a grueling interrogation. They believed the truth would come out later.
Thibodeaux’s trial began on a Monday — Sept. 29, 1997, a little more than a year after his arrest. That Friday, the jury deliberated an hour and returned with its verdict: guilty of first degree murder.
The words numbed Thibodeaux.
The next day, the jury found him guilty of aggravated rape while murdering the 14-year-old. He was sentenced to die.
Shackled and riding in the back of a squad car to Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola., he kept his eyes on the night sky. He never expected to see stars again.
Making peace with death
Amid the monotony and isolation of death row, Thibodeaux spiraled into a void he couldn’t escape. Like a zoo animal, he paced. Five steps each way around the cell — one, two, three, four, five, turn. When the sweltering summer heat pushed the temperature past 100, he sat motionless for hours.
“It’s about as lonely as it gets. You miss the sense of touch,” he said. “The walls start to close in on you. You watch friends walk away to be executed. One day they would come for me.”
Not wanting to prolong the misery, Thibodeaux decided against launching a string of appeals that likely would keep him languishing on death row for decades.
“The grave is the only way out,” he said.
Then Denise LeBoeuf, an attorney working for the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana, walked into his life.
She sat in the prison visiting room, looking at a man who seemed more like a boy behind large wire-rimmed glasses. He was thin, depressed, fragile-looking, she said. She was convinced Thibodeaux was innocent and wanted a chance to prove it.
He decided to let her try.
Even after Thibodeaux’s routine appeals were denied, LeBoeuf refused to give up. Others joined forces with her and colleague Caroline Tillman. The Minneapolis law firm Fredrikson & Byron, having recently lost a death-row case in Louisiana, dedicated its resources to the fight on a pro bono basis. The Innocence Project and its co-founder, New York lawyer Barry Scheck, also signed on.
For the first time in Thibodeaux’s life there were people who believed in him, and were ready to fight to save him.
Thibodeaux got up one morning and sat on the edge of his prison cot, staring at the cigarette in one hand, the lighter in the other.
“Man, I’m tired of this,” he thought, and tossed the cigarettes. He began exercising.
He counted out push-ups, jumping jacks, squats and situps. He threw his trial transcript and some magazines in a laundry bag and lifted the weight. During the three hours a week he was allowed in the yard, he ran within the confines of the fence.
Read the Bible. Make coffee using a handkerchief for a filter. Clean the cell. Brush teeth. Wash face. Exercise. Read. Do puzzles. Exercise. Shower. Clean the cell again. Listen to the radio. Read.
Routine gave him focus; religion and faith in his legal team gave him the will to survive another day. “We all have to have something to believe in,” he said.
July 21, 2015
WASHINGTON — Before he was exonerated of murder and released in 2010, Anthony Graves spent 18 years locked up in a Texas prison, 16 of them all alone in a tiny cell.
Actually, he does not count it that way. He counts his time in solitary confinement as “60 square feet, 24 hours a day, 6,640 days.” The purpose, Mr. Graves came to conclude, was simple. “It is designed to break a man’s will to live,” he said in an interview.
An estimated 75,000 state and federal prisoners are held in solitary confinement in the United States, and for the first time in generations, leaders are rethinking the practice. President Obama last week ordered a Justice Department review of solitary confinement while Congress and more than a dozen states consider limits on it. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, in a Supreme Court ruling last month, all but invited a constitutional challenge.
“Do we really think it makes sense to lock so many people alone in tiny cells for 23 hours a day, sometimes for months or even years at a time?” Mr. Obama asked in a speech at a convention of the N.A.A.C.P. in Philadelphia, where he called for an overhaul of the criminal justice system. “That is not going to make us safer. That’s not going to make us stronger. And if those individuals are ultimately released, how are they ever going to adapt? It’s not smart.”
While other changes to the justice system would require Congress to act, this is one area where the president has at least some latitude, although it is uncertain how much. Either way, it could be a test of his drive in his final 18 months in office to remake America’s prisons. In his N.A.A.C.P. speech and during a visit to a federal prison, the first by a sitting president, Mr. Obama expressed a concern for the lives of prisoners that few, if any, of his predecessors have shown.
“No president has ever suggested that there’s anything problematic about solitary confinement, that we should be studying it or that it’s overused,” said Margaret Winter, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project. “I feel like that has got to be some sort of a tipping point.”
The Rev. Ron Stief, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, called the moment “a game changer.” He said: “We’ve been saying for decades, ‘It’s time,’ and it really feels now like it is time. The silence has been broken.”
Studies have found that solitary confinement exacerbates mental illness and that even stable people held in isolation report experiencing psychiatric symptoms, including anxiety, depression, anger, self-cutting or other acts of self-harm, or compulsive actions like pacing or cleaning a cell over and over.
“When they get out, they are broken,” said Dr. Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist in California who consults on prison conditions and mental health programs. “This is permanent damage.”
Cornell William Brooks, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., said prolonged solitary confinement amounted to torture. “Putting someone in solitary confinement does horrible things to a person’s personality, their psyche, their character,” he said. “It might be said that condemning a person to solitary confinement treats a person as an animal. And so that they emerge from such treatment exhibiting animalistic behavior can’t be surprising.”
Many corrections officials, even those who believe that solitary confinement is overused, caution that in some situations, it may be unavoidable.
“If someone has committed a violent assault, whether it be a staff member or another inmate, until you can somehow solve that problem, that person is going to need to be isolated,” said Rick Raemisch, executive director of Colorado’s corrections department. He pointed to an inmate who said he would kill someone if he were allowed out of solitary, a threat mental health professionals considered credible.
Mr. Raemisch has worked to substantially reduce the use of solitary confinement in Colorado but said groups that opposed it altogether should help develop other ways to handle inmates who pose a danger of violence. “There are those that say this is bad,” he said, “but when you look around for an alternative, people have left the room.”
July 13, 2015
Alcolu, SC (WLTX)- On Saturday the young boy, executed without a fair trial was honored with a memorial.
George Stinney Jr. was 14-years-old when he was electrocuted in the connection of the death of two young white girls in Alcolu.
George Stinney Jr. was convicted of killing 11-year-old Betty Binnicker and 7-year-old Mary Emma Thames in Alcolu. Three months after his trial he was executed in the electric chair.
His name was cleared last year after almost 70 years. Now the family seeks closure.
The memorial was organized by ‘A New Day’ or A.N.D.
“It was three families touched by this death, we were hurt and so were the two little girls families” says Irene Lawson-Hill the second cousin to George Stinney Jr.
She along with about 20 other family members were at the memorial. She says she’s happy to see new things added to the stone because it keeps his memory alive.
“They added this face, the picture wasn’t there. They had the execution date, they had his name and birthday” says Lawson-Hill. “I hope that no other kid in America, no matter what state they live in will not through this again. That there will be physical evidence before they execute another person”.
To fully heal, she says their family needs a public apology.
“We know we have to forgive the state for what happened, we can’t bring him back from what happened. But we feel that an apology would help mend our hearts to let us know that the state is behind us, that they didn’t just ignore this case” she says.
At the memorial, students from Ridge View High School sang the National Anthem. This group dedicated a full school project to his memory in 2013.
“His conviction was mostly due to racial profiling and because of his race so we feel that keeping his memory alive is kind of like showing south Carolina has made a mistake and that these mistakes are still being made and we have to realize them and go back and look at how people are convicted and profiled” says Kiana Sweatt a student at Ridge View.
June 29, 2015
Glenn Ford, who spent nearly 30 years on Angola’s death row for a murder that prosecutors eventually conceded he did not commit, died in New Orleans early Monday (June 29), supporters announced. He was 65.
Ford learned he had lung cancer shortly after his release from Angola on March 11, 2014. A news release from Ford’s supporters said he died at 2:11 a.m., having been “surrounded by friends, loved ones and family in recent days.”
Ford, who was born in Shreveport on Oct. 22, 1949, was convicted of the 1983 murder of 56-year-old Isadore Rozeman, a Shreveport jeweler and watchmaker for whom Ford had done occasional yard work. Ford had always denied killing Rozeman, and on March 10, 2014, he was exonerated of the crime when the state vacated his conviction.
State District Judge Ramona Emanuel voided Ford’s conviction and sentence based on new information corroborating his claim that he was not present or involved in Rozeman’s death, Ford’s attorneys said.
Ford was tried and convicted of first-degree murder in 1984 and sentenced to death. He spent 29 years, three months and five days in solitary confinement on Angola’s death row. At the time of his release, Ford was the longest-serving death row inmate in the United States, supporters said.
The final 15 months of Ford’s life were spent outside prison walls but not without challenges.
Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office filed a petition to deny Ford state-mandated compensation for his wrongful conviction and imprisonment, arguing Ford failed to meet the law’s “factually innocent” clause. The provision requires petitioners to have not committed the crime for which they were originally convicted as well as “any crime based upon the same set of facts” used in the original conviction.
First Judicial District Court Judge Katherine Clark Dorroh sided with Caldwell in a ruling three months ago, deciding Ford was aware of the plan to rob Rozeman and failed to stop it, and took and sold items stolen during the robbery. The judge also ruled Ford tried to find buyers for the weapon used in Rozeman’s murder, and that he tried to hinder the police investigation by initially giving a false name for the man he later identified as Rozeman’s killer.
Ford died while awaiting the outcome of separate federal lawsuits aimed at securing compensation for his imprisonment and failing health, which he claimed resulted from insufficient medical treatment while in prison. Supporters said all he had received from the state before his death was $20 for a bus ride home from prison.
Supporters said Ford is survived by “several children” who live in California, and “more than 10 grandchildren.”
A memorial service will be held at the Charbonnet Funeral Home at 1615 St. Philip St., but a date and time had not been immediately determined, supporters said. They asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made in Ford’s name to Resurrection After Exoneration at www.r-a-e.org.
April 20, 2014
Anthony Porter is angry.
He’s come within hours of being executed after he was convicted of killing two people.
He was freed from Death Row after another man, Alstory Simon, confessed to the murders.
He got a pardon, but he didn’t get a dime when he sued the city and the cops for framing him.
And now, there’s a serious push to strip away what little Porter has left: his claim of innocence.
Attorneys pushing for Simon’s release from prison say the justice system got it right the first time — that the evidence points to Porter all along in the notorious double murder in 1982 at a South Side park.
Porters’ friends and supporters argue that a racist conspiracy is trying to rewrite history and make a victim, Porter, into a villain once again.
“Yeah, I’m innocent, man,” Porter said in an interview that was sometimes tense and combative.
“They keep on bringing the same old stuff up,” Porter told the Chicago Sun-Times, as he was surrounded by supporters.
“I ain’t got no peace of mind,” he said. “I’m suffering. I’m tired.”
The questions about Porter’s innocence have been coming up more frequently as the attorneys for Simon argue he was set up.
Those lawyers accuse Richard Devine, the Cook County state’s attorney at the time, of bowing to political pressure and accepting a guilty plea from Simon despite strong evidence pointing to Porter. Devine has said politics had nothing to do with his decision.
Last fall, Devine’s successor, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, agreed to review the circumstances of Simon’s confession and imprisonment.
And that makes Porter furious.
He and his supporters say the review of Simon’s case is part of a conspiracy to discredit the anti-death penalty movement that embraced Porter as a symbol of a broken justice system. Former Gov. George Ryan, who pardoned Porter, has said the case factored heavily in his decision to impose a moratorium on the death penalty.
“They’re trying to destroy me and Gov. Ryan at the same time,” Porter said.
Porter, 59, said he can’t walk on the street without people pointing at him because of the renewed questions about the murders of Jerry Hillard and Marilyn Green.
In an interview last week, Porter gave a rambling but impassioned defense of his innocence. A longtime supporter, Maurice Perkins, president of the Bronzeville-based Inner City Youth and Adult Foundation Inc., was at his side, helping him respond to questions because — Perkins said — of Porter’s low IQ. Tests have shown Porter has an IQ of 51, which was a factor in his getting “railroaded,” Perkins said.
Porter wore a beige suit and suede shoes during an interview in the historic Swift mansion at 45th and Michigan, the headquarters of the foundation.
The stress from the renewed questions about his innocence have made him sick, Porter said. He needs surgery for a gall bladder ailment, he said.
Porter also said he lost his former wife, two children and a grandchild in a fire in Alabama a few years ago.
He does odd jobs for the foundation and speaks to youth groups, but the stigma of the case prevents him from landing a full-time job, he said.
“They damaged my name. I’ve been cheated out of my money,” he said.
Porter did receive about $145,000 in restitution from Illinois in 2000, but in a court deposition, he said he didn’t keep much of it, spending a large chunk on a Lincoln Navigator SUV and giving money to churches and supporters.
And suing the city got him nothing.
Attorney Walter Jones, who represented the city in the lawsuit, said he supports the review of Simon’s murder case.
“I am like any ex-prosecutor,” Jones said. “I want the truth to come out. I certainly believe I heard the truth come out during the course of the trial. I never met the man, Alstory Simon. All I can tell you is the truth that came out in my trial always said: ‘It is Anthony Porter.’ ”
When Porter was sent to Death Row for the 1982 killings of the couple in the bleachers near a pool in Washington Park, he’d never accused the police of abusing him physically.
Now, he alleges he was tortured in the same way detectives working under former police Cmdr. Jon Burge allegedly coerced confessions from suspects.
“They beat me, stomped me,” Porter said. “They put a plastic bag over my head.”
Porter has never confessed to the murders, though, and has steadfastly denied being in Washington Park when the killings happened.
“I wasn’t in no park,” he angrily repeated last week.
Witnesses at his trial in 1983 said otherwise.
One of the prosecution witnesses, William Taylor, testified at the trial that he saw Porter pull the trigger. Taylor would later modify his testimony and say that while he saw Porter in the park, he did not see the actual murders.
Porter was convicted of the murders and of robbing a man of $2 at gunpoint at the pool just minutes before the shootings in the nearby bleachers.
But the convictions unraveled after Northwestern University professor David Protess, his journalism students and private investigator Paul Ciolino famously reinvestigated the case in 1998.
Ciolino went to Milwaukee and obtained a videotaped confession from Simon, a convicted robber.
Just two days after the explosive video was aired on TV, prosecutors released Porter.
But Simon’s attorneys, Terry Ekl and James Sotos, claim Simon was tricked into confessing. Ciolino played a videotape for Simon of an actor pretending to have witnessed Simon commit the murders.
Simon was sentenced to 37 years in prison. He’s eligible for parole in 2017.
In an interview, Porter insisted all of the witnesses against him have recanted their testimony.
Perkins said those witnesses made up stories about Porter because he was known as a bully in their neighborhood and they wanted to get rid of him.
Indeed, Porter’s lengthy rap sheet includes two other robbery convictions and a conviction for shooting a man in the head during an argument over a dog. The man survived with a graze wound.
Some of the witnesses to the 1982 double murder were threatened by police to identify Porter as the killer, Perkins claimed.
He said the witnesses later decided to tell the truth and recant their statements against Porter.
But several of those witnesses were recently interviewed for a feature-length documentary called “Porter” and have renewed their allegations against him.
The film, due to be released this summer, is directed by Shawn Rech, a Cleveland-area resident who produces the “Crime Stoppers Case Files” show. It’s partially funded by Chicago attorney Andy Hale, who represents police officers in lawsuits claiming misconduct.
In one interview in the documentary, reviewed by the Sun-Times, Taylor said: “I saw Anthony Porter run past down the bleachers right past me out of the south gate.”
“Anthony Porter, I still think in my heart, is guilty,” Taylor said.
Another witness, Kenneth Edwards, said: “I am positive that Anthony Porter killed those two people. I saw it with my own eyes.”
Edwards, now serving a prison term for murder, said he heard a “pow, pow.”
“I saw Porter, I saw Tony Porter, and I saw him do it,” he said.
In the documentary, Jacqueline Green, a sister of murder victim Marilyn Green, also suggests Porter was the culprit. “It makes me angry that a killer could be walking out free when they took someone’s life and changed my life forever,” she said.
Porter, though, said he remains on good terms with the Green family, and notes Marilyn Green’s mother believes Simon did it.
In a strange new twist to an already complex case, meanwhile, Porter and Perkins say they were both recently paid $500 “bribes” in return for Porter appearing on camera for the documentary.
Perkins said he and Porter were offered “thousands” more if Porter would confess.
Simon’s attorneys deny involvement in an offer to pay for Porter to confess.
Rech, the director of the documentary, acknowledges giving Porter and Perkins $500 each at Perkins’ request.
“We thought it would add authenticity to have the real guy [Porter] in the movie saying he didn’t do it,” Rech said.
But Rech denies he or anyone else in his project offered a bonus to Porter to confess.
Perkins insists that racist, pro-law enforcement motivations are driving the renewed questions of Porter’s innocence.
“You’re trying to rewrite history, man,” Perkins said.
Porter added: “I’m an innocent black man in Chicago.”
april 3. 2014
The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has voted not to recommend a posthumous full pardon for Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed a decade ago after being convicted of setting a house fire that killed his three young daughters.
“This whole process is, unfortunately, typical of this board, where they don’t demonstrate that they’ve actually considered the substantial evidence that we’ve put before them,” said Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, which has led the charge to clearn Willingham’s name in the case.
A case involving a black man convicted by an all-white jury in Louisiana decades ago may be reopened.
march 11, 2014
UPDATE: Glenn Ford was indeed released from prison late Tuesday afternoon local time. The same judge who denied him relief in 2009 was the one who signed the order authorizing his release.
ORIGINAL STORY: Glenn Ford, a black man wrongfully convicted of murder by an all-white jury in Louisiana in 1984, a man who has spent the last 30 years on death row for a crime he did not commit following a trial filled with constitutional violations, is on the verge of being set free. Once that happens (and it could happen as soon as tomorrow after a hearing in the case) he will become one of the longest-serving death row inmates in modern American history to be exonerated and released.
Ford’s dogged lawyers and enlightened parish prosecutors in Shreveport both filed motions late last week informing a state trial judge that the time has come now to vacate Ford’s murder conviction and death sentence. Why? Because prosecutors now say that they learned, late last year, of “credible evidence” that Ford “was neither present at, nor a participant in, the robbery and murder” of the victim in his case, a man named Isadore Rozeman.
Prosecutors believe the recent account of a confidential informant who claims that one of other four original co-defendants in the case, arrested long ago along with Ford, was actually the person who shot and killed Rozeman. This is not news to Ford. For three decades, stuck in inhumane conditions on death row in the state’s notorious Angola prison, he has insisted that he had nothing to do with the murder and that he was involved in the case only after the fact.
Any exoneration is remarkable, of course. Any act of justice after decades of injustice is laudable. It is never too late to put to right a wrong. But what also is striking about this case is how weak it always was, how frequently Ford’s constitutional rights were denied, and yet how determined Louisiana’s judges were over decades to defend an indefensible result.
Isadore Rozeman, an elderly white man with cataracts, a man fearful of crime in his neighborhood, was murdered in his small jewelry and watch repair shop in Shreveport on November 5, 1983. Ford had done yard work for Rozeman and several witnesses placed him near the scene of the crime on the day of the murder. When he learned that the police were looking for him he went to the police station where, for days, for months, he cooperated with the investigation.
Ford told the police, for example, that a man he identified as “O.B.” had given him jewelry hoping that he, Ford, could pawn it. The police would later discover that this jewelry was similar to merchandise taken from Rozeman’s store. Ford identified one possible suspect in Rozeman’s murder, a man named Jake Robinson, and later suggested that “O.B.” was Robinson’s brother, Henry, who also may also have been up to no good.
With all signs pointing to the Robinsons, and with police under the impression that the one or both of the brothers still possessed the murder weapon, Ford was not immediately charged with Rozeman’s murder. He and the two Robinsons were instead charged three months later—only after Jake Robinson’s girlfriend, Marvella Brown, incriminated them by telling the police that Ford was with the Robinsons, and in the possession of a firearm, on the day of Rozeman’s murder.
Louisiana also relied on “experts” to build its case. The first, the parish coroner who had not personally examined Rozeman’s body, testified about the time of death and the fact that the shooter was left-handed. The second expert found a few particles unique to or characteristic of gunshot residue on Ford’s hands. The third, a police officer not certified as a fingerprint expert, concluded that a “whorl” pattern on Ford’s fingers was consistent with a single partial fingerprint lifted from a bag the police believed was used in the murder.
There was no murder weapon found. There were no eyewitnesses to the crime. There were legitimate reasons why Ford would have been around Rozeman’s store. The primary witness against Ford was a person, Brown, whose credibility and reliability were immediately challenged. Expert opinions were not definitive. The police had reason to believe that one of the Robinsons had killed Rozeman. And most of all Ford had not acted suspiciously in any way.
Ford’s murder trial was constitutionally flawed in almost every way. The two attorneys he was assigned were utterly unprepared for the job. The lead attorney was an oil and gas attorney who have never tried a case—criminal or civil—to a jury. The second attorney, two years out of law school, was working at an insurance defense firm on slip-and-fall cases. Both attorneys were selected from an alphabetical listing of lawyers at the local bar association.
During jury selection, prosecutors used their peremptory strikes to keep blacks off the jury. The reasons they gave for precluding these men and women from sitting in judgment of Ford were insulting and absurd. And leading up to and during the trial Louisiana did not share with the defense all evidence favorable to it as they were required to do under the United States Supreme Court’s constitutional command in Brady v. Maryland.
The prosecution’s case was based largely on the testimony of Brown, the girlfriend. Under cross-examination, however, she told jurors that the police had helped her make up the story she had told about Ford. When Ford’s attorneys later called her to the witness stand, she told jurors that a bullet left from an old gunshot wound to her head had affected her thinking. “I did lie to the Court… I lied about it all,” she said in court (remember, it was Brown’s story that led to Ford’s arrest).fter Brown’s credibility imploded on the stand, prosecutors turned to their “experts.” It was a case that cried out for rebuttal experts to make simple and obvious points. A coroner who did not examine the body could not accurately determine time of death or whether the shooter was left-handed. That sort of thing. But no experts testified for the defense. Why? Because Ford’s lawyers believed, mistakenly, that they would have to pay for the costs of these experts.* (Many years later, in a post-trial hearing, the experts Ford’s finally did hire profoundly undermined the conclusions reached by Louisiana’s trial experts.)
Ford was quickly convicted. At the sentencing phase of his trial, the lack of competent defense counsel again played a factor. The best mitigation witnesses who might have testified for him lived out of state—but Ford’s lawyers were unsure about the process for subpoenaing them to testify in Louisiana. It took that all-white jury less than three hours to recommend a sentence of death for the man they believed murdered Isadore Rozeman.
As it is in most capital cases, the appellate history of the case is tortuous. All through the years, in both explicit and implicit ways, the Louisiana appellate courts expressed their unease with the results of Ford’s trial. But no court, ever, reversed the conviction and sentence against him and ordered a new trial. This is so even though the first court to review the case, the Louisiana Supreme Court itself, concluded it had “serious questions” about the result.
Most people believe that ineffective assistance of counsel only occurs at trial. That’s not true. In these cases the incompetence that occurs at or before trial often is compounded by poor appellate work and that initially happened here— the same system, in other words, that can tolerate an oil and gas man handling a capital murder case can tolerate giving a convicted murderer an appellate lawyer who also doesn’t know what the hell he is doing.
But the fair trial issues Ford raised were so strong that in many respects he got lucky. For example, the justices in Washington ordered a hearing on his claims about race bias in jury selection– only to see the Louisiana courts back up the preposterous claims of prosecutors that there were neutral reasons for the jurors they selected and rejected. Only black juror was rejected, for example, because a prosecutor said he felt “uneasy” about her and thus did not look her in the eye.
And the Louisiana Supreme Court ordered a hearing on his claims about ineffective assistance of counsel and the prosecution’s failure to disclose exculpatory evidence– only to see the trial court again back up prosecutors by interpreting precedent in a way that renders meaningless the right to counsel and the Brady rule. (The irony here is profound; we now know, from the prosecution’s filing this week, that there is additional evidence that would have decided the outcome of the case.)
It was this ruling, in October 2009, that perhaps best illustrates the farce this case was. Yes, a Louisiana judge conceded, Ford would have been benefited from having those California witnesses testify for him during the mitigation phase of his trial. Yes, he would have benefited had his lawyers hired their own experts. But none of this constituted “ineffective assistance.” The Louisiana Supreme Court, in a two-word order, accepted this dreadful interpretation of law.
Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys are providing much public detail about the circumstances surrounding this “confidential informant” and why the case has turned so suddenly after all these years. My sense is that prosecutors in particular want to keep things quiet now to ensure they properly proceed against the person(s) they now believe murdered Isadore Rozeman. But soon, I hope, they will have to answer all the new questions this twist raises.
Like whether the murder weapon, never found in 1983 or anytime thereafter, was in the possession of one or both of the Robinsons at the time of Rozeman’s death. And whether the “credible” evidence prosecutors have just discovered was discoverable 30 years ago. What took so long for this information to come to light? Why did it come to light now? What is so credible about this new witness? What do old-time Shreveport law enforcement officials think about all this?
In the next few weeks, as this story spreads, the focus naturally will be on the ending of it—Ford’s first steps toward freedom. What few will focus upon, sadly, is why it took 30 years for justice to shine through here or why anyone (in or out of Louisiana) ought to have any confidence in a judicial system that so mightily defends verdicts like this one. Sure, a judge here and there piped up. Hearings were held. But precisely what good did it do Ford?
This is a sad story with a happy ending. But it’s a story I’ve written before. And it raises the inescapable question of how many other condemned men and woman are sitting on death row in the nation’s prisons, after sham trials like this, after feckless appellate review, waiting for lightning to strike them the way it has Glenn Ford. How many men, that is, who have not yet been executed despite being innocent of murder.
Until the very end what happened here was neither law nor order. It was instead something arbitrary and capricious, like the application of the death penalty itself. For Glenn Ford, the man Louisiana now says is innocent of murder, once faced a death warrant—on February 28, 1991. Had that warrant been executed who exactly would have known of the injustice of that act? Twenty-six other Louisiana death row inmates were killed during his decades on death row—eight by lethal injection, 18 by the electric chair.
What a waste—of a man’s life, of million of dollars in prison costs, of thousands upon thousands of hours of work by lawyers and judges and investigators and experts, all because the criminal justice system failed 30 years ago to provide to Ford with even a remotely fair trial. Soon it will be the first day of the rest of Glenn Ford’s life. He’ll try to make the best of it. Which is about all you can say, too, about the men and women responsible for Louisiana’s justice system.
february 22, 2014
My name is Kerry Max Cook, but for two decades, I was known as “Cook, Execution number 600.” Innocent of the murder and rape I was accused of in 1977, my home became a tiny death row cell in Texas, the state that kills more people than anywhere else in the U.S. by far — including 141 of my fellow inmates before my release in 1999. By then, my only brother had been murdered and my Dad had died of cancer. My Mom died soon after. I was stabbed, raped and routinely abused on death row. My ordeal spanned two generations of the Smith County District Attorney’s office, two wrongful convictions, two reversals of conviction, a walk to the execution chamber, and three capital murder trials. My legal team and I have been unable to find a worse case of prosecutorial misconduct in Texan history.
I avoided a fourth trial only by pleading no contest, while making no admission of guilt. I have never been officially exonerated. Author John Grisham said, “If it were fiction, no one would believe it …”
I am, in fact, innocent. Another man’s DNA was found on the victim’s clothing two months after my release. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals accused Smith County prosecutors of “willful misconduct” in my case. Nonetheless that office remains determined to stop me clearing my name. My lawyers are working to file an application for writ of habeas corpus in coming months, hopefully prompting the appeals court in Austin to officially exonerate me and end my 36-year-old nightmare.
It all began in 1977. I was 20 and working as a bartender when a waitress said the manager wanted to see me. I stepped into a pitch-black room that was usually lit by fluorescent lighting and fumbled for the switch. Suddenly, hands reached out to grab both sides of me. The silver Smith & Wesson handcuffs crashed down on my wrist and I heard the detective’s words, “Kerry Max Cook, you’re under arrest for the capital murder of Linda Edwards” — a name I didn’t even recognize.
At the police station, they used my head as a toilet plunger. I knew the policeman was lying as he rammed my head repeatedly down the bowl filled with dark urine, screamed at me to confess and told me they had found my DNA on the body. I wept for my mother and father, for anyone, to help.
Even though I still bear the mental and physical scars and ongoing indignities of my wrongful conviction and imprisonment, I consider myself lucky. I have a wife and son. I have powerful allies — including Amnesty International, which found me in a dark cell and helped raise awareness of my wrongful conviction in 1991. It literally saved my life. I was so proud to be introduced by Susan Sarandon at Amnesty’s Bringing Human Rights Home concert in Brooklyn February 5 and address the audience as my 13-year-old Kerry Justice Cook looked on. I was proud to honor a powerful, global movement of activists who carry Amnesty’s torch for human rights — including my right to life. That is why I support Amnesty’s abolition work and the efforts by courageous activists on the ground, most urgently in New Hampshire, where a repeal vote in the state House is anticipated early next month.
The death penalty should be abolished across the United States, and everywhere. We do not need any more mistakes. We know that 143 people have served time on US death rows for crimes they were wrongfully convicted of. And imagine this. On appeal, the only question becomes whether the defendant received a fair and impartial trial. So if the evidence is made up, like in my case, you die.
The price of this system is a life. Of course the odds are stacked in your favor if you have access to financial resources, but you won’t be surprised to hear that you don’t meet too many people like that on death row.
One of death row’s other dirty little secrets is that it is a repository for every conceivable mental illness. Its population consists largely of untreated, traumatized children who grew up into broken adults. There are exceptions, of course, but I do not believe that even the guilty on death row are irredeemable. As Rosalind says in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, “Time is the old justice that examines all such offenders.” If my case proves anything, it is that only time can tell if someone is guilty.
No prosecutor should have the power to end another human life. No other living soul should endure what I did. So I am praying now for victory, by Amnesty International USA and all those who are pushing to end this barbaric practice, in New Hampshire, and everywhere. Then, my nightmare will be over.
Last exoneration October 25, 2013 (#143)
Number of cases in which DNA played a substantial factor in establishing innocence: 18
Average number of years between being sentenced to death and exoneration: 10.1 years
|1||David Keaton||FL||B||1971||1973||2||Charges Dismissed|
|2||Samuel A. Poole||NC||B||1973||1974||1||Charges Dismissed|
|5||James Creamer||GA||W||1973||1975||2||Charges Dismissed|
|7||Thomas Gladish||NM||W||1974||1976||2||Charges Dismissed|
|8||Richard Greer||NM||W||1974||1976||2||Charges Dismissed|
|9||Ronald Keine||NM||W||1974||1976||2||Charges Dismissed|
|10||Clarence Smith||NM||W||1974||1976||2||Charges Dismissed|
|11||Delbert Tibbs||FL||B||1974||1977||3||Charges Dismissed|
|12||Earl Charles||GA||B||1975||1978||3||Charges Dismissed|
|15||Jerry Banks||GA||B||1975||1980||5||Charges Dismissed|
|17||Charles Ray Giddens||OK||B||1978||1981||3||Charges Dismissed|
|19||Johnny Ross||LA||B||1975||1981||6||Charges Dismissed|
|20||Ernest (Shujaa) Graham||CA||B||1976||1981||5||Acquitted|
|21||Annibal Jaramillo||FL||L||1981||1982||1||Charges Dismissed|
|22||Lawyer Johnson||MA||B||1971||1982||11||Charges Dismissed|
|25||Neil Ferber||PA||W||1982||1986||4||Charges Dismissed|
|26||Clifford Henry Bowen||OK||W||1981||1986||5||Charges Dismissed|
|27||Joseph Green Brown||FL||B||1974||1987||13||Charges Dismissed|
|29||Darby (Jesse) Tillis||IL||B||1979||1987||8||Acquitted|
|30||Vernon McManus||TX||W||1977||1987||10||Charges Dismissed|
|31||Anthony Ray Peek||FL||B||1978||1987||9||Acquitted|
|34||Richard Neal Jones||OK||W||1983||1987||4||Acquitted|
|35||Willie Brown||FL||B||1983||1988||5||Charges Dismissed|
|36||Larry Troy||FL||B||1983||1988||5||Charges Dismissed|
|37||Randall Dale Adams||TX||W||1977||1989||12||Charges Dismissed|
|38||Robert Cox||FL||W||1988||1989||1||Charges Dismissed|
|39||James Richardson||FL||B||1968||1989||21||Charges Dismissed|
|40||Clarence Brandley||TX||B||1981||1990||9||Charges Dismissed|
|41||John C. Skelton||TX||W||1983||1990||7||Acquitted|
|42||Dale Johnston||OH||W||1984||1990||6||Charges Dismissed|
|43||Jimmy Lee Mathers||AZ||W||1987||1990||3||Acquitted|
|44||Gary Nelson||GA||B||1980||1991||11||Charges Dismissed|
|45||Bradley P. Scott||FL||W||1988||1991||3||Acquitted|
|47||Jay C. Smith||PA||W||1986||1992||6||Acquitted|
|48||Kirk Bloodsworth||MD||W||1984||1993||9||Charges Dismissed||Yes|
|49||Federico M. Macias||TX||L||1984||1993||9||Charges Dismissed|
|50||Walter McMillian||AL||B||1988||1993||5||Charges Dismissed|
|51||Gregory R. Wilhoit||OK||W||1987||1993||6||Acquitted|
|54||Andrew Golden||FL||W||1991||1994||3||Charges Dismissed|
|56||Robert Charles Cruz||AZ||L||1981||1995||14||Acquitted|
|58||Alejandro Hernandez||IL||L||1985||1995||10||Charges Dismissed||Yes|
|60||Joseph Burrows||IL||W||1989||1996||7||Charges Dismissed|
|61||Verneal Jimerson||IL||B||1985||1996||11||Charges Dismissed||Yes|
|62||Dennis Williams||IL||B||1979||1996||17||Charges Dismissed||Yes|
|63||Roberto Miranda||NV||L||1982||1996||14||Charges Dismissed|
|64||Gary Gauger||IL||W||1993||1996||3||Charges Dismissed|
|65||Troy Lee Jones||CA||B||1982||1996||14||Charges Dismissed|
|67||David Wayne Grannis||AZ||W||1991||1996||5||Charges Dismissed|
|68||Ricardo Aldape Guerra||TX||L||1982||1997||15||Charges Dismissed|
|69||Benjamin Harris||WA||B||1985||1997||12||Charges Dismissed|
|73||Robert Lee Miller, Jr.||OK||B||1988||1998||10||Charges Dismissed||Yes|
|74||Curtis Kyles||LA||B||1984||1998||14||Charges Dismissed|
|75||Shareef Cousin||LA||B||1996||1999||3||Charges Dismissed|
|76||Anthony Porter||IL||B||1983||1999||16||Charges Dismissed|
|78||Ronald Williamson||OK||W||1988||1999||11||Charges Dismissed||Yes|
|79||Ronald Jones||IL||B||1989||1999||10||Charges Dismissed||Yes|
|80||Clarence Dexter, Jr.||MO||W||1991||1999||8||Charges Dismissed|
|81||Warren Douglas Manning||SC||B||1989||1999||10||Acquitted|
|82||Alfred Rivera||NC||L||1997||1999||2||Charges Dismissed|
|83||Steve Manning||IL||W||1993||2000||7||Charges Dismissed|
|85||Joseph Nahume Green||FL||B||1993||2000||7||Charges Dismissed|
||Frank Lee Smith – died prior to exoneration||FL||B||1986||2000 **||14||Charges Dismissed||Yes|
||Michael Graham||LA||W||1987||2000||13||Charges Dismissed|
|90||Albert Burrell||LA||W||1987||2000||13||Charges Dismissed|
|91||Oscar Lee Morris||CA||B||1983||2000||17||Charges Dismissed|
|92||Peter Limone||MA||W||1968||2001||33||Charges Dismissed|
|93||Gary Drinkard||AL||W||1995||2001||6||Charges Dismissed|
|94||Joaquin Jose Martinez||FL||L||1997||2001||4||Acquitted|
|95||Jeremy Sheets||NE||W||1997||2001||4||Charges Dismissed|
|96||Charles Fain||ID||W||1983||2001||18||Charges Dismissed||Yes|
|97||Juan Roberto Melendez||FL||L||1984||2002||18||Charges Dismissed|
|98||Ray Krone||AZ||W||1992||2002||10||Charges Dismissed||Yes|
|99||Thomas Kimbell, Jr.||PA||W||1998||2002||4||Acquitted|
|100||Larry Osborne||KY||W||1999||2002||3||Charges Dismissed|
|105||Rudolph Holton||FL||B||1986||2003||16||Charges Dismissed|
|106||Lemuel Prion||AZ||W||1999||2003||4||Charges Dismissed|
|109||Timothy Howard||OH||B||1976||2003||26||Charges Dismissed|
|110||Gary Lamar James||OH||B||1976||2003||26||Charges Dismissed|
|111||Joseph Amrine||MO||B||1986||2003||17||Charges Dismissed|
|112||Nicholas Yarris||PA||W||1982||2003||21||Charges Dismissed||Yes|
|114||Gordon Steidl||IL||W||1987||2004||17||Charges Dismissed|
|115||Laurence Adams||MA||B||1974||2004||30||Charges Dismissed|
|116||Dan L. Bright||LA||B||1996||2004||8||Charges Dismissed|
|117||Ryan Matthews||LA||B||1999||2004||5||Charges Dismissed||Yes|
|118||Ernest Ray Willis||TX||W||1987||2004||17||Charges Dismissed|
|119||Derrick Jamison||OH||B||1985||2005||20||Charges Dismissed|
|122||Curtis McCarty||OK||W||1986||2007||21||Charges Dismissed||Yes|
|124||Jonathon Hoffman||NC||B||1995||2007||12||Charges Dismissed|
|125||Kennedy Brewer||MS||B||1995||2008||13||Charges Dismissed||Yes|
|126||Glen Chapman||NC||B||1994||2008||14||Charges Dismissed|
|127||Levon Jones||NC||B||1993||2008||15||Charges Dismissed|
|128||Michael Blair||TX||O||1994||2008||14||Charges Dismissed||Yes|
|130||Paul House||TN||W||1986||2009||23||Charges Dismissed|
|131||Daniel Wade Moore||AL||W||2002||2009||7||Acquitted|
|132||Ronald Kitchen||IL||B||1988||2009||21||Charges Dismissed|
|134||Michael Toney||TX||W||1999||2009||10||Charges Dismissed|
|135||Yancy Douglas||OK||B||1995||2009||14||Charges Dismissed|
|136||Paris Powell||OK||B||1997||2009||12||Charges Dismissed|
|137||Robert Springsteen||TX||W||2001||2009||8||Charges Dismissed|
|138||Anthony Graves||TX||B||1994||2010||16||Charges Dismissed|
|139||Gussie Vann||TN||W||1994||2011||17||Charges Dismissed|
|140||Joe D’Ambrosio||OH||W||1989||2012||23||Charges Dismissed|
|141||Damon Thibodeaux||LA||W||1997||2012||15||Charges Dismissed||Yes|
|143||Reginald Griffin||MO||B||1983||2013||30||Charges Dismissed|