Another strike against the death penalty

I’m often angry to read about individuals convicted of crimes, sentenced to death, and later exonerated thanks to new evidence.  I’m even more angry when I read about those who were wrongfully executed for their ‘crimes’, only to have evidence emerge years (sometimes decades) later that proves they didn’t do it.

Another case has just come out of Louisiana.

There are many ways to measure 30 years, but for Glenn Ford, the yardstick is simple.

“My sons — when I left — was babies. Now they grown men with babies,” he said, speaking as a free man for the first time in nearly three decades.

Ford, Louisiana’s longest-serving death row prisoner, walked free Tuesday after spending nearly 30 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit.

“My mind’s going all kinds of directions, but it feels good,” Ford, 64, told reporters outside the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, according to CNN affiliate WAFB.

One reporter asked whether he harbors any resentment.

“Yeah, because I was locked up almost 30 years for something I didn’t do,” said Ford, who wore a denim shirt, a hat and dark-rimmed glasses.

“Thirty years of my life, if not all of it,” he said, WAFB reported. “I can’t go back.”

According to the Capital Post Conviction Project of Louisiana, a judge ordered that Ford be freed Monday after prosecutors petitioned the court to release him.

New information corroborated what Ford had said all along: that he was not present at nor involved in the November 5, 1983, slaying of Isadore Rozeman, the project said.

There’s more at the link.

Folks, I’m not opposed to the death penalty as such.  When someone’s clearly, unambiguously, absolutely guilty of a capital offense, I’ll drop the hammer on him myself if necessary.  However, with so many mistakes having occurred in the US justice system (to name but one example, the Innocence Project has helped to exonerate ‘312 wrongfully convicted people, including 18 on Death Row‘), it’s no longer possible for me in conscience to support this penalty being used.  The execution of even one innocent person is too many – and there have been far more than that.

It’s time we took the death penalty off the table, and substituted imprisonment for the term of one’s natural life.  That’s the only moral, ethical, honest thing to do until we can come up with a justice system that will no longer kill the wrong person, or imprison an innocent man like Mr. Ford for 30 years.

Even if they compensate Mr. Ford at the rate of a million dollars per year of wrongful imprisonment, he’ll never get his life back.  I know something about Louisiana’s death row – I’ve visited the place ‘on business’ as a prison chaplain.  It’s soul-chilling.  Mr. Ford’s psyche will undoubtedly have suffered permanent damage through being there for so long.  There’s no compensation in the world that can make up for that.



  1. Over the last few years I've come to agree fully with you on this. While I've no opposition to the death penalty as such, I've little confidence in the system we have now. Thus, better to remove the possibility of an innocent person being executed.

    Just too many over eager prosecutors, mistaken witnesses, and incomplete investigations for it to be otherwise.

  2. And while I agree with you, on both statements:

    "When someone's clearly, unambiguously, absolutely guilty of a capital offense, I'll drop the hammer on him myself if necessary"

    And:"until we can come up with a justice system that will no longer kill the wrong person, or imprison an innocent man like Mr. Ford for 30 years."

    Yet your sentencing guidelines would not have helped Mr. Ford one bit.

    He'd still have been in prison.

  3. @Anonymous at 5:44 PM: Yes, but he wouldn't have been on Death Row, knowing every day that he'd been sentenced to die.

  4. I agree with Peter. He has precisely stated my opinion on the issue.

    While I find the concept that a person might be wrongly convicted of a crime repugnant, I can see that it is impossible, given human nature, to prevent it from happening occasionally, especially if the case relies on circumstantial evidence and witness identification.

    On the other hand, the concept that a person might be wrongly executed is utterly unacceptable.

    Also, Mr. Ford was lucky that the system is so broken that it can take 30 years to decide whether or not to actually execute someone. Either there should be no doubt, and the execution could be carried out in a reasonable (say years, not decades) time span, or there is simply too much doubt.

    In essence "reasonable doubt" is insufficient.

    In the past, I've wondered about the possibility of a unique burden of proof in such cases. Perhaps it would require irrefutable physical evidence.

    However, I'm beginning to think that, in the real world, it is impossible for the system not be corrupted at some level, rendering even such extreme standards questionable.

  5. Many minorities and white men and women have been incarcerated for crimes they simply never ever committed, there is a fellow who was a policeman in our community, he was convicted of sexual abuse of his kids which he never did..His ex-wife had an affair with another officer, the county stood by those two people, he sued after he was released from prison many years, he got 9.1 million from the county they still stood by the liars, oh, my goodness, his attorney the wrongfully convicted man is waiting for her 4 million in fees and each day that goes by the interest is ridiculous, the governor of this state commuted his sentence and he was let free of any crime, he is my hubs age 67 soon he spent many years in our state penitentiary for crimes he never committed, his children were in court and deposed, the jury took 5 hours and let him go, the Govenor got involved his daughter works for the state where we live, nothing can give him back the years he was imprisoned, I think the death penalty is only for heinous crimes which are on tv or recorded & then after people can witness to the murders etc. This fellow is waiting for the attorney who defended him in the civil case to get paid for what she did to get his release too..Come on the death penlty is only against minorities and poor poor people the rich get away with you know what look at Bernie Madoff he stole people's lives their money they worked for with lies and crap…He should have gotten the death penalty but he was uber wealth and got away with his horrible crimes!

  6. What needs to be done, far more urgently than abolishing the death penalty, is to remove mu8ch or all of the immunity currently enjoyed by prosecutors, Law Enforcement Officers, and the like. If a prosecutor knew that by failing to turn over evidence to the defense he was risking serious jail time, this now routine offense would be much rarer. If police know that, should their warrant turn out, on examination, to be so much pigswill, and they shoot the resident of an address they are raiding, they will be tried for murder, they would return to serving warrants by ringing doorbells.

    A prosecutor or law officer who knowing railroads a man on a capitol charge should be in turn charged with attempted murder.

    This is the difference between "Lawr 'n Owada" and The Rule Of Law. The former means rule by uniformed thugs unanswerable to the commons. The latter means that those who wear uniforms or hold office are held to the same laws as the rest of us.

  7. Thing that gets me is, if they manage to get this many innocent people on death row, with all the hundreds of hoops the prisoners have to get shoved through, how many people with 'lesser' penalties are also innocent?

    Certainly the only difference I can see between life in prison and a long walk off a short scaffold is that one kills the body and the other kills the soul.

    Not sure what's to be done to fix it though. Might be one of those things like state corruption and poverty that simply can't be fixed in this world.

  8. There is a huge difference between the death penalty being administered at the scene of the crime by the intended victim performing self defense – of which I am in full and complete support – and it being administered years or decades later by a massively corrupt and stunningly incompetent bureaucratic machine, the members of which are immune from consequences.

    Anyone who has been paying attention is, or should be, aware that government is capable of performing precious few tasks with any degree of competence. Administering the death penalty is not one of them.

    I'm with Peter on this, as well as commenter Schofield, above; first, any form of government-administered death penalty should be immediately abolished and forever prohibited, and second, there should be no immunity whatsoever – criminal or civil – for anyone in government employ in the United States, and this includes elected officials, at every level.

  9. I'm on board with the 'no immunity' idea. In fact, I'd like more of an 'eye for an eye' system in place. A prosecutor, law officer' or judge found guilty of fraud that results in punishment for a citizen…. will receive exactly the punishment that citizen would have received, only without parole.

  10. I don't like that the innocent get incarcerated like this. However, when we elevate the life of the killer over the life of the victim, my blood boils. Why should a murder get protected life in prison when he callously took life? That only cheapens the life of the victim. The murderer gets lenience he didn't give to his victim. Also, I hate one size fits all. It's a cop out to me. It is the easy way out so I don't have to exercise judgement.

    With the advances in DNA, if it's a slam dunk, then the perp needs to die way sooner rather than later. Why does it still take 15 years to execute an obviously guilty murderer? If DNA is trusted to clear why is it not trusted to shorten the distance from conviction to execution?

    Solomon said the hearts of man are fully inclined to do evil because punishment is delayed. God said "if man sheds blood, by man, his blood shall be shed." I don't see where that was ever rescinded. Jesus' words of forgiveness were directed to the individual not the government. The .gov still has the job of protecting it's citizens, not coddling murderers for the rest of their natural lives.

    It is a travesty when one is jailed as this man was. If malfeasance is found in the judge or prosecutor or defense, they should serve the same term the innocent did. No doubt!

  11. C.S.P. Schofield nailed it. The root of this problem is prosecutorial/LE immunity even in the case of willful evidence suppression. Popehat's blog has been nailing this recently and I applaud him for it.

    STxRynn, the problem is that all too often, a prosecutor decides up front that a case is a slam dunk and subsequently ignores other suspects and evidence that would tend to implicate them or absolve the accused; that's how cases like this happen. There is also the issue of forced confessions (via trickery/taking advantage of naivete, or extreme duress) once a prosecutor or investigator thinks they "have their man" when they actually have an innocent person.

    Taking away DA/LE immunity in such cases would go a long way toward preventing them.

  12. Immunity is a slippery slope. I also do not think any prosecutor should be immune from willful errors.

    30 years is a long time for the state to admit a mistake.

  13. I find the argument that one error or one life is too many, weak.

    The contrary argument is that we live in a fallen, human world and that if we applied this attitude more broadly, it would result not in humanity, but paralysis. We must ask whether we can have an effective justice system if we cannot have a punishment that fits the worst of crimes. We need to ask whether we are requiring other anonymous victims to die in order that we avoid the responsibility of making life-and-death judgements. (No, that does not justify injustice, but the argument is that we should reform the courts rather than simply throwing up our hands and assuming that we cannot).

    One perspective is that if we can conscript an individual into the military and send them into battle where they have a very real possibility of dying due to human error, then we can accept a legal system in which death as a result of human error is far smaller.

    From the Christian perspective, death is not the worst of ends….. It merely places us before the judgement of God.

    Having said all that, I am wary of the argument that some should die needlessly for the benefit of the rest. It is good, but too often misused.

    Please comment…… PeterW

  14. benEzra, the slam dunk would be the guilty's DNA all over the crime. Not that the prosecutor has "his man" lined up in the crosshairs. All to often, DNA is used to exonerate the innocent and WINKED AT in the sentence. If the DNA paints the accused as the murderer, then why wait 15 years to put him in God's hands? How is it such a lopsided witness? That was my very poorly written point. It seems to me, that DNA should be as strong at shortening the lag between conviction and sentence as it is in freeing the wrongly convicted.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *