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30 Years on Death Row

In an incredible miscarriage of justice, a prosecutor admits his cowardice and indifference led to the wrongful murder conviction of a man sentenced to death

The following is a script from "30 Years on Death Row" which aired on October 11, 2015. Bill Whitaker is the correspondent. Ira Rosen and Habiba Nosheen, producers.

There may be no greater miscarriage of justice than to wrongfully convict a person of murder and sentence him to death. But that's exactly what happened to Glenn Ford. He spent nearly 30 years on death row, in solitary confinement, in Louisiana's notorious Angola prison until new evidence revealed he did not commit the murder.

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Glenn Ford's mugshot

He was one of 149 inmates freed from death row since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. In all those exonerations, you have likely never heard a prosecutor admit his role and apologize for his mistakes in sending an innocent man to death row. But tonight, a prosecutor's confession. Marty Stroud, speaks of an injustice he calls so great it destroyed two lives: Glenn Ford's, and his own.

Marty Stroud: I ended up, without anybody else's help, putting a man on death row who didn't belong there. I mean at the end of the day, the beginning, end, middle, whatever you want to call it, I did something that was very, very bad.

It was 1983, Shreveport, Louisiana, and 32-year-old prosecutor Marty Stroud was assigned his first death penalty case. A local jeweler, Isadore Rozeman had been robbed and murdered. Quickly, Stroud zeroed in on Glenn Ford. Ford had done yard work for Rozeman and was known to be a petty thief, and he admitted he had pawned some of the stolen jewelry. All that was enough to make him the primary suspect. Stroud knew a conviction would boost his career.

Marty Stroud: I was arrogant, narcissistic, caught up in the culture of winning.

Bill Whitaker: Win regardless of the facts, the truth?

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Marty Stroud circa 1990

Marty Stroud: Looking back on it, yes. There was a question about other people's involvement. I should have followed up on that. I didn't do that.

Bill Whitaker: Why didn't you?

Marty Stroud: I think my failure to say something can only be described as cowardice. I was a coward.

Stroud now admits the cards and the system were stacked against Ford from the beginning: his court-appointed lawyers had never practiced criminal law.

Bill Whitaker: What kind of law did they practice?

Marty Stroud: One individual had general civil practice, and another one did succession, wills and estates.

Bill Whitaker: In a murder trial?

Marty Stroud: Here they are in a murder trial in Louisiana where a man was on trial for his life. And at the time I saw nothing wrong with that. In fact, I snickered from time to time saying that this was going to be...we're going to get though this case pretty quickly.

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Marty Stroud
CBS News

Stroud's case wasn't strong. There was no physical evidence linking Ford to the crime. The main witness incriminating Ford admitted in court she'd been coerced by police to make up her testimony. But what was more important to Marty Stroud was the composition of the jury.

Marty Stroud: There were no African Americans on the jury.

Bill Whitaker: Was that by design?

Marty Stroud: At the time of the case, we excluded African Americans because we-- I felt that they would not consider a death penalty where you had a black defendant and a white victim. I was the person that made the final call on the case with respect to jurors. And I was-- I was wrong.

Caddo Parish, Louisiana, is predominately white. Yet 77 percent of those given the death penalty here in the last 40 years have been black.

Marty Stroud: So, when Glenn Ford walks into that courtroom, he's got a count of zero and two against him, and a fast ball's coming right at his head for strike three.

It took the jury less than three hours to find Glenn Ford guilty. Afterwards, Stroud and his legal team went out and celebrated sending Ford to death row.

Marty Stroud: I had drinks. I slapped people on the back. We sang songs. That was utterly disgusting. You know, it-- I-- you see Mother Justice sometimes, and-- a statue. And she has a blindfold over her eyes. She was crying that night because that wasn't justice. That wasn't justice at all.

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Lady Justice, Shreveport
CBS News

Ford was put in solitary confinement in one of the most infamous lock ups in America: Angola. The maximum-security prison has a well-earned reputation for harsh penalties and harsher conditions. Summer temperatures on death row commonly exceed 104 degrees.

Marty Stroud: Death row, you have maybe a 5x7 foot cell. You're in there every day. You get out one hour a day to walk around and you come back in. You do that day after day, year after year, and that's it. He was basically thrown in to a cell and forgotten.

Ford would become one of the country's longest-serving, death row inmates. Stroud went on to a successful legal career.

But all that changed when one of the initial suspects, a man named Jake Robinson, told a police informant he had killed the jeweler three decades earlier. Robinson is now in prison for another murder.

A court review of the new information found there was "credible evidence ... Glenn Ford was neither present at, nor a participant in, the robbery and murder of Isadore Rozeman."

Stroud's reaction when he was told Ford was innocent?

Marty Stroud: I thought I was going to throw up. Nauseous as it-- and I felt my face was just turning, like a fever. But then, the horror of knowing that yours truly had caused him all this pain.

Last year, Ford was exonerated and released from Angola. Pictures of his first free moments captured a rainbow in the sky and a smile on his face.

Bill Whitaker: What was it like to step outside the walls of that prison?

Glenn Ford: Like stepping in a brand new world; like breathing fresh air for the first time. It felt good.

But that good feeling didn't last. Shortly after being released, Ford learned he had stage IV lung cancer. Doctors told him he had only a few months to live. When we met Glenn Ford he was living in New Orleans, in a home for released prisoners.

Glenn Ford: And that hurt.

Bill Whitaker: Just to swallow water?

Glenn Ford: Feel like a flame!

Bill Whitaker: You were on death row for 30 years. Did you ever come close to an execution date?

Glenn Ford: Came within a week because the judge said he was retiring. And he wanted to put a death date on me.

Bill Whitaker: Did Mr. Ford get justice in this case?

Dale Cox: I think he has-- gotten delayed justice.

Dale Cox, the acting district attorney of Caddo Parish, got Glenn Ford released after receiving the informant's information. As he sees it, the justice system worked and no one, including Marty Stroud, did anything wrong.

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Dale Cox
CBS News

Dale Cox: I don't know what it is he's apologizing for. I think he's wrong in that the system did not fail Mr. Ford.

Bill Whitaker: It did not?

Dale Cox: It did not...in fact...

Bill Whitaker: How can you say that?

Dale Cox: Because he's not on death row. And that's how I can say it.

Bill Whitaker: Getting out of prison after 30 years is justice?

Dale Cox: Well, it's better than dying there and it's better than being executed----

There may be no more controversial prosecutor in the U.S. than Dale Cox. Between 2010 and 2014, his Caddo Parish office put more people on death row per capita than anywhere else in the country.

Dale Cox: I think society should be employing the death penalty more rather than less.

Bill Whitaker: But there have been 10 other inmates on death row in Louisiana who have been exonerated. Clearly, the system is not flawless. Are you sure that you've gotten it right all the time?

Dale Cox: I'm reasonably confident that-- that I've gotten it right.

Bill Whitaker: Reasonably confident?

Dale Cox: Am I arrogant enough, am I narcissistic enough to say I couldn't make a mistake? Of course not.

Bill Whitaker: But until this information came out, the state was convinced that Mr. Ford was guilty.

Dale Cox: Yes.

Bill Whitaker: He could have been killed.

Dale Cox: Yes.

Bill Whitaker: And it would've been a mistake.

Dale Cox: Yes.

Bill Whitaker: It sounds like you're saying that's just a risk we have to take.

Dale Cox: Yes. If I had gotten this information too late, all of us would've been-- grieved beyond description. We don't want to do this to people who are not guilty of the crime they're charged with.

According to Louisiana law, Glenn Ford was entitled to $330,000, about $11,000 for every year of wrongful imprisonment. But the state is denying him the money. Why? In the original trial, prosecutors said Ford knew a robbery of Rozeman's jewelry shop was going to take place. But he didn't report it. Ford was never charged with that crime, but the state says that's reason enough to deny him.

Bill Whitaker: Do you believe he should be compensated for the time he spent in prison?

Dale Cox: No, I think we need to follow the law. And the statute does not require that you be charged or convicted or arrested for any of these other crimes. The statute only requires that Mr. Ford prove he didn't do these other crimes.

Bill Whitaker: So he's guilty until proven innocent in this case?

Dale Cox: No, because it's not a question of guilt or innocence. It's a question of whether he's entitled to money...taxpayer money.

Bill Whitaker: But you say he has to prove that he's innocent of these other charges, these other crimes for which he's never been charged, for which he's never been tried.

Dale Cox: That's correct.

Bill Whitaker: He has to prove he's innocent of them in order to get the compensation?

Dale Cox: That's correct.

Bill Whitaker: I'm trying to understand. He was punished for something that he might have done. That doesn't seem fair.

Dale Cox: You want fairness...

Bill Whitaker: Isn't the law supposed to provide fairness?

Dale Cox: It is supposed to provide justice.

Bill Whitaker: You don't think he deserves compensation

Dale Cox: I think that the law must be followed.

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Glenn Ford
CBS News

Glenn Ford: What law is this? I never heard of such law where it says it's OK to do what they did to me without any type of compensation.

There was some compensation. Glenn Ford was given a $20 gift card the day he left Angola prison.

Glenn Ford: Gave me a card for $20 and said "Wish you luck."

Bill Whitaker: How long did that last you?

Glenn Ford: One meal. I had some fried chicken, tea and the French fries came with it. I had $4 and change left.

Bill Whitaker: After 30 years in prison?

Glenn Ford: Right.

Bill Whitaker: Thirty years on death row in solitary confinement and the state of Louisiana releases Mr. Ford with a $20 gift card.

Dale Cox: You're trying to portray the state of Louisiana as some kind of monster. I got him out of jail as quickly as I could. That's what the obligation of the state is.

"I'm not in the compassion business, none of us as prosecutors or defense lawyers are in the compassion business."

Bill Whitaker: And that's the end of the state's obligation?

Dale Cox: As far as I'm concerned.

Bill Whitaker: What about compassion? Have you no compassion for what Mr. Ford has been through?

Dale Cox: Well, you don't know me at all, do you? But you have no problem asking that question.

Bill Whitaker: No, I'm asking 'cause I'm seeking an answer.

Dale Cox: I'm not in the compassion business, none of us as prosecutors or defense lawyers are in the compassion business. I think the ministry is in the compassion business. We're in the legal business. So to suggest that somehow what has happened to Glenn Ford is abhorrent, yes, it's unfair. But it's not illegal. And it's not even immoral. It just doesn't fit your perception of fairness.

Bill Whitaker: I would say in this case many, many, many people would see this as unfair.

Dale Cox: I agree. I can't disagree with that.

For his part, Marty Stroud says Glenn Ford deserves every penny owed him. He went to see Ford to apologize.

Bill Whitaker: How do you apologize to someone for taking 30 years of his life from him?

Marty Stroud: Well, there's no books you can read to do that. I just went in and apologized.

Bill Whitaker: Do you forgive him?

Glenn Ford: No. He didn't only take from me; he took from my whole family.

Bill Whitaker: It sounds like you don't think you could ever forgive him.

Glenn Ford: Well, I don't. But I'm still trying to.

Bill Whitaker: Do you think you deserve his forgiveness?

Marty Stroud: No. If somebody had done that to me, I don't know if I could forgive them.

Bill Whitaker: You say you destroyed his life. Sounds like this incident destroyed your life too.

"It was a train to injustice, and I was the engineer. Glenn Ford will be a part of me until the day I die."

Marty Stroud: I've got a hole in me through which the north wind blows. It's a sense of coldness, it's a sense of just disgust. There's just nothing out there that can fill in that hole that says I-- it's alright. Well, it's not alright. It's not alright.

Singer: "Keep your eyes on the prize....hold on...hold on..."

Three weeks after we met him, Glenn Ford died, penniless. His final months he lived off charity. Donations covered the cost of his funeral.

Dale Cox: There was a tragic outcome. And these tragic outcomes happen all the time in life. It's not like the Glenn Ford case is the only tragedy you'll ever see or I'll ever see in our lifetime. The question is, was there anything illegally done, improperly done that led to this. And-- and I can comfortably say, based on the review of the record, no, there was not.

In Glenn Ford's will, he directs that any state money he might receive go to his 10 grandchildren so they can have a better chance than he did. And Marty Stroud? He has asked the Louisiana Bar Association to discipline him for his role in the Ford case.

Marty Stroud: It was a train to injustice, and I was the engineer. Glenn Ford will be a part of me until the day I die.