Category Archives: Prosecutorial conduct (good and bad)

Prosecutor Apologizes for Wrongful Conviction of Glenn Ford

Wow, a rare event…Kudos to Marty Shroud….

From NYDailyNews.com:

The lead prosecutor who locked wrongfully accused Glenn Ford in a “hell hole” at Angola’s death row in Louisiana in 1984 has apologized for a “miscarriage of justice.”

Then-33-year-old A.M. (Marty) Stroud III celebrated his successful conviction of Ford with a round a booze with his friends, a memory he now calls “sick” in a public apology published this week.

Stroud only blames himself, according to his Shreveport Times guest column.

“I was arrogant, judgemental, narcissistic and very full of myself,” Stroud wrote. “I apologize to Glenn Ford for all the misery I have caused him and his family.”

A judge freed Ford from the Lousiana State Penitentiary a year ago when evidence, believed to have been suppressed during the trial, surfaced exonerating him from the all-white jury’s decision in the murder of a nearly blind Shreveport watchmaker, Isadore Rozeman.

He was the longest-serving inmate on the state’s death row to be let go.

But Ford’s first injustice gave way to another.

The state is denying his request for compensation typically bestowed upon those wrongfully convicted because he did not prove he is factually innocent, according to a lawsuit.

Even if he wins his compensation, he may not reap the benefits, but his decendants, an adult son and grandchild, might. He is battling stage-four lung cancer and doctors believe he has only months to live.

Another lawsuit claims “indicators of cancer” were found in 2011 while he was incarcerated, but he was denied proper medical care, according to USA Today.

“Glenn Ford deserves every penny owned to him,” Stroud added, using his apology to advocate on Ford’s behalf and calling for the abolishment of capital punishment, an “anathema to any society that purports to call itself civilized.”

Stroud admittably mocked Ford during sentencing, he revealed, and said Ford wanted to stay alive to prove his innocence, which he considered “an affront” to the jurors.

“He showed no remorse, only contempt for your verdict,” Stroud recalled saying in court.

The jury relied on few articles of evidence for a conviction after detectives accused Ford, Rozeman’s landscaper, of shooting and then robbing the 68-year-old business owner.

No murder weapon was ever recovered.

The new evidence discovered in 2013 showed Ford was not at the scene of the crime, nor did he participate in it.

“Had I been more inquisitive, perhaps the evidence would have come to light years ago,” Stroud said.

A motion filed last year said the evidence would have saved Ford from an arrest and indictment in Rozeman’s death.

The Debra Milke Lawsuit – A Perspective

Camille Tilley, whose daughter Courtney was wrongfully convicted in Maricopa County, was kind enough to post a link to the lawsuit recently brought by Debra Milke against a number of Phoenex and Maricopa County, AZ officials regarding her wrongful conviction for the murder of her 4 1/2 year-old son. This post was contained in a comment to our recent story about the Debra Milke case.

If you haven’t had a chance to read the lawsuit, I think it deserves some special comment. You can access it directly here:  Debra Milke-lawsuit. It’s very interesting to note that Milke is represented in her suit by the firm of Neufeld Scheck & Brustin. You probably know that Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck are the founders of the original Innocence Project.

I’ve read the suit, and if you think this kind of thing can’t happen to you, you need to read it too. It reads like a bad crime novel, but the really scary part is that it actually happened, and the people who are supposed to be the “good guys” are actually the criminals. Joe or Jane citizen has absolutely no defense against this.

The official misconduct in this case is sordid, stomach turning. Could it possibly be that this case, and this suit, will be the crowbar that finally pries the lid off the slimy justice system snake pit called Maricopa County?

Thursday’s Quick Clicks…

Debra Milke Case — She Remains Free — and IT’S DONE !!

Today, the Arizona Supreme Court refused to grant the prosecution a retrial for Debra Milke. Milke’s conviction had been overturned by the US 9th Circuit for prosecutorial misconduct, and sent back to the Arizona courts.  See the AZ Central story here.

We’ve covered this case extensively. See here, here, here, and here.

And …….. Debra Milke has filed suit against Maricopa County, AZ, the prosecutor (Bill Montgomery), the detective (Armando Saldate), and twelve other officials. See the Courthouse News Service article here.

All I can say is …. YOU GO, GIRL!

EVERYBODY Is Supposed to Tell the Truth in Court ……. Right??

The genesis of this post was the recent action by the US 9th Circuit in California, in which the court recommended perjury charges against a prosecutor who had lied to the court. Please see our previous post on this case here.

When I first saw this, my initial reaction was “holy smoke!” This is precedent shattering. But when you read the details, the potential perjury charges were recommended because the prosecutor in question had lied while testifying. This situation does not cover a prosecutor’s lying in court when not officially sworn in and under oath, which is basically all the time.

That’s when I had the epiphany. Here’s my idea. Let’s have all trial counsel, prosecutors and defense attorneys, sworn in at the beginning of each trial. It’s so SIMPLE, and would COST NOTHING. At most, this would take 60 seconds of the bailiff’s time at the beginning of a trial, and then it’s done.

EVERYBODY is supposed to tell the truth in court, right? Any citizen who testifies swears an oath to tell the truth, and if they lie, they’re subject to perjury. Why should prosecutors be any different than the citizen? Of course, they will say they have a “code of ethics” that governs their behavior, but apparently this code of ethics has no legal teeth to it, because prosecutors lie in court routinely without consequence. Why should they not be exposed to the same legal rules as anyone else? What’s the big deal about just promising to tell the truth? Any truly honest, ethical person should gladly agree.

Here’s an example of how that could work. The judge asks the prosecutor, “Have you turned all relevant and germane evidence over to the defense?” The prosecutor will answer, “Yes, your honor, to the best of my knowledge.” THEN, if it is later determined that the prosecutor knowingly withheld evidence, it’s not just a Brady violation (which seems to have no penalty for the prosecutor), it’s perjury. The same situation would apply if the judge’s question is “Have you offered any incentives to this witness for his testimony?”

The LOGIC and FAIRNESS of this is undeniable and inescapable. How can anyone argue against it? It takes no time and it costs no money, and it levels the playing field.

Now, I’ve bounced this idea off a number of colleagues, and the uniform response has been, “Great idea, but it will never happen.” Of course the reason for this response is because of the politics involved. I seriously question whether you could ever get a state legislator to even sponsor such a bill, unless maybe they had a death wish. So I looked into what it would take to get such an issue on the ballot for a general election. Here in Ohio, this is called an Initiated Statute, and there is a constitutional process by which to undertake it. This process is positively daunting, and well beyond my meager capabilities. There has been only one such Ohio statute enacted within the last 10 years that I could find – the statewide smoking ban.

There must be a way. If you like the idea, I encourage you to run with it. Take it as your own. There must be a way. This is only fair.

 

 

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Conviction Integrity Units – A Skeptic’s Perspective

Anyone who has followed me at all on this blog must know that, as a group, prosecutors are not my favorite people. But it’s almost, kind-of not their fault. It’s just that the position has been institutionalized with so much power, and with no accountability, and with no consequences for misdeeds; any mortal human would succumb to the seductive temptations of such power. As I’ve noted several times before on this blog, Lord Acton’s words fit exactly – “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I am sure there must be prosecutors out there who are dedicated to the mission of being a “minister of justice,” and who will work tirelessly to see true justice done, no matter the consequences or impact to their personal career.  I just haven’t come across any yet (with one, single, notable, extraordinary exception). With that being said, there has been much favorable press lately about the establishment – by prosecutors – of “conviction integrity units.” CIU’s are resource (people and funds) within a prosecutor’s office who are tasked with seeking out and rectifying wrongful convictions. The CIU’s of which I am aware at this point in time are:

CIU's

We can do nothing but applaud these efforts. After all, a wrongful conviction corrected is a wrongful conviction corrected. If nothing else, the CIU’s are an admission by prosecutors that the justice system does fail. But there are aspects of these units that trouble me.  They are all totally contained within the prosecutor’s office. They are not subject to any kind of independent, objective oversight. The prosecutors have total control over which cases they choose to review and which they don’t. Case in point: Lake County, IL State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim’s decision not to have his conviction integrity unit review the case of Melissa Calusinski, that was recently featured on CBS “48 Hours.” If the prosecutor decides whom to indict and the prosecutor decides whose case the CIU will review, what’s the difference? The prosecutor decides in either case. There’s still no independent review, no accountability, and no consequences. Wouldn’t it be much, much better just to get justice right in the first place?

My strong suspicion is that, because of increasing publicity about wrongful convictions, prosecutors are establishing these things to politically bolster their public image. Call me cynical – and we should welcome every step toward true justice – but I tend to see a fox guarding the hen house and a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Over the past decade, people and organizations within the “innocence movement” have made noticeable and laudable progress.  As of this writing, the National Registry of Exonerations has logged 1,555 exonerations of people who were wrongfully convicted – and anyone who does this work can tell you that this is just a drop in the bucket. The media have done a pretty decent job of making these exonerations known to the public. After all, it makes for a good “story.” And one of the interesting facts that often comes out in many of these stories is that 46% of those 1,555 wrongful convictions had “official misconduct” as a contributing factor. Official misconduct includes both police misconduct and prosecutorial misconduct. The data in the registry does not distinguish between the two, but clearly, prosecutorial misconduct is a significant contributing factor to wrongful convictions. The Center for Prosecutor Integrity has begun building a data base of such misconduct – the Registry of Prosecutorial Misconduct.  I look forward to the day when this registry will provide the kind of hard data that can be used to drive justice system and legislative reform.

This negative publicity over the last several years has put political pressure on prosecutors; particularly in jurisdictions that have a demonstrated history of wrongful convictions. Prosecutors are political animals. They hold elected political office, and they will do just about anything to maintain their credibility with the electorate in order to be re-elected, or to be elected to higher office. Prosecutors are pointing to these things, and saying, “See. We’re being proactive about wrongful conviction.” My expectation is that they are cherry picking the easy, obvious cases, and reaping the good publicity. It remains to be seen how many wrongful convictions they will overturn that involved egregious prosecutorial misconduct, particularly if the subject prosecutor is still with the prosecutor’s office.

CIU’s have yet to stand the test of time. Can they last? Can they actually be apolitically dedicated to true justice, no matter the circumstances?  Perhaps time will tell, but my current view is that CIU’s are the prosecutors’ public relations gimmick du jour, and that they are transparently political.

Just watch. When the CIU’s eventually start being dismantled, I predict we’ll hear one or both of the following justifications:

1) We’ve fixed everything there was to fix, and we promise to behave ourselves in the future, so the CIU is no longer needed.

2) Budget constraints and the requirements of ongoing prosecutions force us to apply the resource devoted to the CIU to more urgent business.

It would be nice if the CIU’s keep motoring along, overturning wrongful convictions, even if they’re very politically and self-protectively selective in which cases they review. How could anyone object to that?  Again, a wrongful conviction overturned is a wrongful conviction overturned. But to achieve true objectivity, fairness, and impartiality, this function must be separated from the prosecutor’s office. To think anything else is farcical – they have a vested interest in their own convictions. I hold up as a model for how this should be done – the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission. Of course, the problem here is one of throughput. A single commission in a state with many, many counties just cannot possibly deal with all the potentially wrongful convictions that the justice system produces. Maybe there’s a way to solve this throughput problem, but I don’t think anyone knows what it is right now, or should I say “yet.”

I am not advocating that the CIU’s go away, but there must be a better, more objective way to do this. I fear that many cases that deserve review will not be reviewed, because the prosecutor decides it would not be in his/her best interest. And let’s be careful about how much “credit” we give the prosecutors, because these things are clearly politically self serving. In the meantime … prosecutors will continue doing what they do – which is whatever they want, with no fear of sanction.

Let me end, however, with the note that there is a very interesting experiment unfolding in New Orleans. The New Orleans Parish District Attorney and the Innocence Project-New Orleans have agreed to jointly establish a “conviction integrity unit,” although I’m not sure what they’re going to call it yet.  Details of how this will operate are yet to come clear, but it bears very careful watching.