NEW ORLEANS (AP) — It was a long journey of conscience for a former Louisiana prosecutor. He went from celebrating a death sentence with rounds of drinks three decades ago to writing an anguished, open letter of apology after the convicted man was recently declared innocent and set free.
"I apologize to Glenn Ford for all the misery I have caused him and his family," A.M. Stroud III wrote in a letter published in The Times of Shreveport. "I apologize to the family of Mr. Rozeman for giving them the false hope of some closure."
Ford is the exonerated prisoner released earlier this month from the Louisiana State Penitentiary after serving just shy of 30 years on death row. Isadore Rozeman was the elderly victim who was killed in a 1983 robbery.
Stroud's letter was more than just an apology. It was a condemnation of the state's decision to oppose compensating the now cancer-stricken Ford for three decades lost. It was also a firm statement against capital punishment.
"Glenn Ford deserves every penny owed to him under the compensation statute," Stroud wrote. "This case is another example of the arbitrariness of the death penalty. I now realize, all too painfully, that as a young 33-year-old prosecutor, I was not capable of making a decision that could have led to the killing of another human being."
The letter hit The Times' website Friday. Stroud said in a telephone interview Tuesday that he has been overwhelmed at the attention it has drawn.
He spoke slowly in a Louisiana drawl and measured his words during long pauses as he discussed his certainty, in 1984, that Ford was guilty. And the gnawing doubts about the fairness of Ford's trial that began even before he left the Caddo Parish District Attorney's Office for private practice in 1989.
"I began to question the trial itself, the more I thought about it, because of the inexperience of defense counsel," Stroud said. "They'd never had a jury case before, much less a capital case."
Also the evidence was circumstantial. "That, to me, is always troubling," he said.
And, he said, there was the fact that Ford, a black man, was convicted by an all-white jury.
But it wasn't until he learned about a year ago of evidence exonerating Ford — information law enforcement investigators received from a confidential informant that cleared Ford and implicated another man — that Stroud's doubts were fully realized.
"I was upset with myself. After I heard it, I was stunned. But I said, 'Well, this man's getting out. Thank God for that. He's got some time left.'"
Then he learned that the state was opposing paying compensation to Ford.
The Attorney General's Office said in court filings that to be eligible for compensation, an exonerated defendant must prove he did not commit any crime based on facts that led to his conviction. It said Ford failed to prove he did not illegally possess items stolen in the robbery of Rozeman.
An editorial in the Shreveport paper taking the state to task for its position stirred Stroud to write.
"I think that's when I just, well, as I said in my letter, this is the first time I've ever written a letter to any newspaper, and probably the last."
The concerns about Ford's trial that began creeping into Stroud's conscience all those years ago coincided with doubts about the death penalty in general. A Catholic, Stroud recalls reading a statement against capital punishment by bishops in the U.S. that he found well-reasoned.
And aside from theological considerations, Stroud says there is the practical matter of what he sees as the impossibility of the punishment being carried out fairly or in a manner guaranteeing that an innocent person won't be put to death.
He notes statistics from the Innocence Project, an organization involved in the effort to free Ford, that show 144 death row inmates have been cleared of charges since 1973. "That should tell anyone that our system doesn't work."
Stroud describes himself as an introvert. He doesn't foresee becoming an anti-death penalty crusader at age 63. But he said he would probably be willing to testify at a legislative hearing were a bill to abolish the death penalty introduced.
He doesn't see such a bill going far in Louisiana. "The political reality is: This state is steeped in the death penalty right now."
Stroud said he has offered, through an Innocence Project New Orleans lawyer, to offer a personal apology to Ford, who is seeking compensation under state law and, who has also filed suit in federal court seeking compensation for his wrongful arrest and conviction and for denial of medical care that might have caught his cancer early.
Ford hasn't met with Stroud and isn't giving interviews currently because he is going through chemotherapy to battle his lung cancer, said Innocence Project New Orleans lawyer Kristin Wenstrom.
The Attorney General's Office, meanwhile, defends its position in opposition to compensation for Ford.
"We do not understand Mr. Stroud's opposition to our request that the Louisiana judiciary review the record in this case and make a factual determination in this matter," spokesman Steven Hartman said in an email.
Stroud's letter to The Times of Shreveport: http://bit.ly/1BpIbcT