Louisiana Won’t Compensate Dying Man for Thirty Lost Years

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Glenn Ford has gotten two death sentences. The first one landed him on Louisiana’s death row at Angola Prison for 30 years before his conviction was vacated. The second came this February, just under a year after he was released: with Stage 4 lung cancer, Mr. Ford has four to eight months to live.

“Can you imagine going more than twenty years without no human contact?” Mr. Ford asks in response to a question about the emotional impact of death row. “Without seeing your family? And then one day after thirty year with no new contact, one night you’re sleeping on death row, and the next day you’re in the free world. That’s how overwhelmed I still am.”

He envies the lives he’s seen others develop, growing in ways he never had the chance to. “I’m still a spectator,” Mr. Ford explains.

But despite having been wrongfully convicted, a conviction that can be attributed to prosecutorial misconduct and inadequate defense, the state has denied Mr. Ford’s request for compensation. This denial is based on prosecutors’ insistence than Mr. Ford knew of the robbery that culminated in the accidental killing of the victim, and that he pawned items from the store that was robbed. On this basis he is not “factually innocent” within the requirements of the Louisiana compensation law.

But Mr. Ford was convicted of a crime he did not commit on an inaccurate set of facts. He was not convicted of the crimes that are now being alleged against him. Furthermore, the crimes that are preventing his compensation would almost certainly not have earned him 30 years in prison, and they definitely would not have put him on death row. That he allegedly committed crimes related to this set of facts and not different crimes seems like such an arbitrary reason to deny someone a sliver of justice after you’ve robbed them of a much more valuable commodity: liberty.

There is no indication that the police officers who coached witnesses or the prosecutors who suppressed evidence of Mr. Ford’s innocence will be held accountable for their malpractice (one prosecutor did write a heartfelt letter of apology, but failed to explain why he never acted on the doubts he harbored about the case for decades after its conclusion). Without compensating Mr. Ford (capped at $330,000 in Louisiana, by the way, which would be $11,000 for each year of his life spent in a 12 x 12 box), the state of Louisiana will not be held accountable either. And Mr. Ford, who is currently in hospice care, has no money to make his life easier, compensate the hospice workers who are taking care of him, or leave to his many grandchildren when he dies.

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