Last week, in Glossip v. Gross, the Supreme Court rejected a challenge to Oklahoma’s use of a lethal injection drug that risked causing inmates severe pain. Justice Stephen Breyer penned a 46-page dissenting opinion where he stated “it is highly likely” that the death penalty is unconstitutional, citing the “disturbing” number of death row exonerations. Since 2002, there have been 115 exonerations in capital cases, and specifically, Justice Breyer points to the story of exoneree Glenn Ford as one of the reasons for his argument.
At the age of 33, Glenn Ford was wrongfully convicted for the murder of a jewelry shop owner. He spent most of the next 29 years, three months, and five days in solitary confinement in Angola, the Louisiana prison known as one of the nation’s toughest. He maintained his innocence throughout his incarceration, and finally, in March 2014, he was exonerated by a key witness’s admission that she had lied during the trial.
Andrew Cohen, a legal analyst writing for The Atlantic stated that Ford’s case was striking because of “how weak it always was, how frequently Ford’s constitutional rights were denied, and yet how determined Louisiana’s judges were over decades to defend an indefensible result.” The lead prosecutor of the case, Marty Stroud III, also penned an almost unheard of apology criticizing his own work and remorsefully ended his statement with “[I] hope that providence will have more mercy for me than I showed Glenn Ford. But, I am also sobered by the realization that I certainly am not deserving of it.” Justice Breyer cited Stroud’s remarkable apology extensively throughout his dissent.
Shortly after Ford’s release in 2014, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He succumbed to the cancer last week, at age 65, on the same day that the Glossip v. Gross opinion was delivered. It is unlikely that Justice Breyer or the rest of the justices were aware of Ford’s death when the opinion was delivered. However, hopefully Breyer’s nod draws awareness to the injustices suffered by Ford and the other exonerees. You can read more about Ford here.