Is Glenn Ford innocent? New evidence in 1983 homicide
Glenn Ford has been on death row since his formal sentencing in February 1985
by Vicki Welborn
August 3, 2013
Watchmaker and jeweler Isadore Rozeman was a fixture in his Highland neighborhood for more than 20 years. A soft-spoken man, he drew the respect of his neighbors and was known for his love and dedication to his family.
When his body was found in a pool of blood inside his shop on the afternoon of Nov. 5, 1983, it’s understandable the news was met with disbelief and shock. No one could comprehend who would hurt, much less rob and kill, a man neighboring business owner C.D. Allen called a “first-class person.”
Four men were eventually accused of murder and theft of assorted jewelry items from Rozeman’s store. But only one man — Glenn Ford — stood trial.
Ford, who did occasional yard work for Rozeman, repeatedly denied any part in the homicide. But a Caddo Parish jury convicted him of first-degree murder and decided he should be put to death. Ford has been on death row at Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola since being transferred there in August 1988.
Fast forward to this year, when recent federal court filings now indicate someone other than Ford has confessed to being Rozeman’s killer. Exactly what this means for the man who’s sat on death row for almost 30 years is uncertain.
The Caddo Parish District Attorney’s office is being tight-lipped about the impact of the new information on Ford’s status. And Ford’s attorney, Gary Clements, of the New Orleans-based Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana, has not responded to repeated telephone calls and emails seeking comment.
Isadore Rozeman’s nephew, Shreveport physician Dr. Phillip Rozeman, said the district attorney’s office has let him know there is new movement with the case but has provided few details.
“As a family, we’re always open to the idea that if someone else was involved we support any effort to make the others accountable for what happened to my uncle,” he said.
As of Thursday, Ford, now 63, was still confined to his cell. Numerous state and federal appeals have come and gone. Even though the appeals have raised questions about Ford’s conviction, none resulted in his exoneration.
But he has the Caddo District Attorney’s office to thank for the latest court filings that could offer his best hope for a new trial or maybe even freedom. In June and again on Monday, the DA’s office filed in the U.S. District Court in Shreveport supplements to the existing record that reveal during an investigation of an unrelated homicide, a “reliable informant” said Jake Robinson admitted to being the one who shot Isadore Rozeman. The statement was videotaped May 16.
The informant previously gave the same information to Caddo Parish sheriff’s Detective Terry Richardson during a two-part interview Feb. 19. The videos, as well as other related documents, are sealed from public viewing by court order.
Monday, another document was filed indicating a third interview of the informant was video recorded July 18. The informant repeated the same accusation against Robinson and added that Robinson told him he used his left hand to shoot Isadore Rozeman.
The latter was an issue in Ford’s trial. The late Dr. George McCormick, who was the Caddo Parish corner at the time of Isadore Rozeman’s death, testified that a left-handed gunman fired the fatal shot into the back of the shopkeeper’s head. Ford is left-handed.
Robinson initially was included in the group of four men accused in Isadore Rozeman’s death. Tipsters connected him to the crime, as well as his brother Henry Robinson.
District Attorney Charles Scott and Assistant District Attorney Catherine Estopinal, who is handling the appeals process, declined to comment on what the court filings mean for Ford’s future. Scott said Ford filed a writ of habeas corpus, and “we filed a response. We are waiting on the petitioner’s response to our filing.”
In a second interview Tuesday, The Times asked if Scott has offered to dismiss the first-degree murder charge against Ford. After a noticeable pause, Scott said, “No.” He answered the same when asked if he planned to do it anytime in the future.
“I will not dismiss or reject charges without accountability at all,” he said.
Other than the involvement of a Caddo sheriff’s detective in gaining the information about Jake Robinson during an unrelated murder investigation, the sheriff’s office is not actively pursuing anything related to the 1983 homicide, Sheriff Steve Prator said.
Phillip Rozeman recently recalled the toll his uncle’s death and the subsequent trial took on his father and mother. Phillip Rozeman believes the ongoing anxiety, grief and stress contributed to the early death of his father, who was Isadore Rozeman’s brother.
Phillip Rozeman wasn’t able to sit through much of Ford’s trial. But his mother, now in her 80s, did faithfully to represent the family. She, too, has suffered through the loss of Isadore Rozeman.
The doctor’s family was Isadore Rozeman’s closest relatives since the watchmaker didn’t have one of his own.
“He ate at our house every week. He was a kind, gentle man who would never hurt a fly. He was brutally murdered, executed,” he said.
“We believe in the criminal justice system in this country. We believe in the court, and jury gave him a fair trial. If there’s new evidence, I’m certain the district attorney and Caddo Parish are doing the right thing about pursuing any new leads in this case, even though it’s nearly 30 years old.”
And he admits he always thought Ford would have been executed by now.
“Because of all of the appeals, we knew it would take a long time, but we didn’t know it would take this long for the sentence to be carried out,” he said. “As a family, we have all the faith in the word in the Caddo District Attorney’s office and in what is decided. We don’t want to be a hindrance. We want the right thing to be done.”
Ford's arrest and trial
Ford’s name emerged as a suspect early in the investigation. A day after Isadore Rozeman’s slaying, Ford got word police wanted to see him, so he voluntarily went to the police station and agreed to be interviewed, photographed and tested for gunshot residue. He also consented to a search of his room. A detective described him as “very cooperative.”
Over a series of interviews, Ford maintained his same story. He admitted to being in Isadore Rozeman’s shop on the day he was killed but said he went there asking for work. Ford occasionally did yard work for the store owner.
Ford told about coming into contact with two men later in the day. One of the men, whom he called “O.B.,” asked Ford if he knew anyone who wanted to buy a .38-caliber gun, even though it wasn’t given to him.
The same man gave Ford jewelry that he wanted to be sold. Ford pawned the items that evening, and receipts showed they were similar to goods taken from Rozeman’s shop.
Ford later identified Jake Robinson in a photographic lineup as being one of the two men, but he denied knowing his brother, Henry. Ford said the men were involved in the homicide, but he didn’t want to identify them because he was afraid for his life.
In subsequent interviews, police told Ford that Jake Robinson had been arrested and they were looking for Henry Robinson. That’s when Ford identified Henry Robinson as “O.B.”
Ford was arrested Nov. 8, 1983, on charges of being in possession of stolen items. Eventually, Ford, the Robinson brothers and George Starks were arrested and indicted in Isadore Rozeman’s murder.
The capital murder trial began in November 1984. Prosecutor Carey Schimpf told the jury Ford killed Isadore Rozeman because he was the only person who could identify him. Ford needed money to pay rent and spent most of the morning of Nov. 5, 1983, casing the neighborhood, Schimpf said, adding that Ford had done yard work for Rozeman but wasn’t happy with what he was being paid. There was no forced entry into Rozeman’s shop, leading to the theory the murderer knew the victim.
Defense attorney Paul Lawrence said, however, that Ford was an “unfortunate fence” who received the stolen items from Isadore Rozeman’s shop and pawned them without knowing about the shooting. Lawrence admitted Ford was at Rozeman’s shop at 151 Stoner Ave. at 1:20 p.m. the day of the killing, but only to ask Isadore Rozeman for work.
Officer Roger D. Skaggs testified he was the first on the scene. The call was received about 3:20 p.m. He found Isadore Rozeman face down on the floor with a gunshot wound to the back of the head. His pants pockets were turned inside out.
A.D. Ebrahim, a friend of Rozeman’s, testified that he spoke with Isadore Rozeman by phone between noon and 1 p.m. on the day of the murder. He stopped later after 3 p.m. and found the shop in “disarray.” He called out for his friend, and when he didn’t get an answer, he went to a flower shop next door and called police.
Also testifying for the prosecution were several teenagers who told how they saw Ford standing in Isadore Rozeman’s backyard and walking in the alley behind his house on the day of the killing. One also said she saw Ford with two other men behind the house two days after the body was found. No one ever said, however, they saw Ford with a gun.
A re-enactment of Isadore Rozeman’s murder was part of Ford’s trial. A sheriff’s deputy was enlisted to pose as the victim as McCormick demonstrated how a gun was put to Isadore Rozeman’s head, which McCormick said was covered with a green duffel bag. He said the shooter was left-handed.
A few days later in the trial, former Caddo Parish coroner Robert Braswell testified on behalf of the defense and said it was equally possible the shooter was right-handed and shot from the back of the store. He estimated the time of death at least four hours before Isadore Rozeman’s body was found. McCormick put it at an hour.
Jake Robinson and his brother refused to testify during Ford’s trial. Jake Robinson asserted his constitutional right to remain silent.
He would not answer questions as to if he’d ever been to Isadore Rozeman’s store before or look at crime scene photos. When asked by the prosecutor if he planned to answer any questions, Jake Robinson simply said he had been framed, but he would not elaborate. His response to all questions was, “I take the Fifth.”
Ford took the stand in his own defense, telling jurors he liked Isadore Rozeman and often sat with him on his porch drinking coffee. He denied killing the jeweler and said he didn’t know who did.
Ford told the jury he moved to Shreveport from California to change his life. He admitted to crimes in his teens and early 20s but said he had cleaned up his act since then.
Ford’s father, John, testified during the penalty phase. However, he admitted he did not know his son well and was unable to raise him because of an accident that required nearly 30 operations. Others called on Ford’s behalf were merely acquaintances.
Defense attorneys attempted to have Vercie Milo, a woman with whom Ford had two children, testify during the penalty phase, too. But she lived in California, and trial counsel did not make sufficient arrangements to get her to Shreveport.
The all-white jury did not buy Ford’s defense and ultimately convicted him and sentenced him to death in the electric chair, which at the time was the state’s method of execution. The death sentence was the first in 27 years in Caddo Parish.
A month later, Jake Robinson pleaded not guilty to Isadore Rozeman’s murder. Later in the year, the charge was dismissed. During the same timeframe, Jake Robinson faced trial in Los Angeles on a vehicular homicide charge.
The murder charge also was dismissed against Henry Robinson, with the district attorney’s office citing insufficient evidence to prove he had a part in the crime.
Ford raises doubt
Caddo court records indicate in 1986 the Louisiana Supreme Court upheld Ford’s conviction and sentence. Ford filed for post-conviction relief in 1991. It was denied in 1999.
However, in June 2000, the Louisiana Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case with instructions to conduct an evidentiary hearing on certain claims, specifically that the prosecution suppressed favorable evidence and that he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to effective counsel and appeal.
In 2007, the Innocence Project filed a brief in support of Ford’s claims. The nonprofit group provides free legal services to prisoners for whom evidence discovered post conviction can provide proof of innocence.
In the brief, attorney David Parks pointed out the state Supreme Court acknowledged the state’s evidence against Ford was entirely “based upon circumstantial evidence.” The court also described the evidence against Ford as “not overwhelming and said “serious questions” were raised on appeal regarding the state’s case. In dissent, Justice Calogero even went further, questioning whether a reasonable juror could even convict on the basis of the evidence presented.
The Innocence Project identified three areas where they say the prosecution’s scientific testimony was “grossly untrustworthy, clearly erroneous and should not have been presented to a jury.” Their points include the testimony of McCormick and his opinion about the dominant hand of the shooter and the victim’s time of death, the testimony of the gunshot expert and the fingerprint analysis of a police officer not qualified as an expert in the field.
“Unfortunately, the jury in Mr. Ford’s case was allowed to consider the entirely baseless and unreliable testimony from purported experts who cut corners and at times made up their science as they went along. It is questionable science such as this that we learn years later has been used to convict innocent persons. Accordingly, the Innocence Network respectfully requests that Mr. Ford’s petition be granted because his constitutional rights were violated when he was convicted using unreliable and plainly erroneous scientific evidence,” Park wrote.
Ford’s pending writ of habeas corpus, in which he seeks to have his conviction reversed and sentence vacated, was filed in U.S. District Court in February 2012. In the 284-page document, Ford challenges a host of trial-related issues and blames ineffective counsel for his conviction. Neither of his court-appointed trial attorneys had ever tried a case before a jury.
Lead defense attorney Paul Lawrence was an oil and gas specialist who had never taken a case to a jury. His criminal experience was limited to two court-appointed cases resolved by guilty pleas.
Co-counsel Kim LaVigne assumed responsibility for the penalty phase. She had been out of law school less than two years and had no experience in criminal law.
Ford also blames prosecutors for suppressing material and exculpatory information from two confidential informants and failing to disclose police reports suggesting Henry Robinson hid the murder weapon under a mattress at a relative’s home.
In the petition, Ford asserts that six days after Isadore Rozeman’s murder, police received information from two separate informants implicating the Robinson brothers and not Ford. The reports also cited multiple sources for the proposition that the Robinson brothers possessed the murder weapon after the crime.
At an evidentiary hearing, Lawrence states the tip “would indicate that (the state) had some independent evidence that someone had called in and said that Jake, Henry and Raymond (Franklin) were the ones responsible for the murder and that they were in possession of the murder weapon. And that’s something that I was never told.”
Lawrence said, “Obviously, that’s something I would have wanted to know about. If someone else was in possession of the murder weapon that would have been exculpatory evidence for Mr. Ford.”
“If the state could put Mr. Ford on death row with circumstantial evidence, counsel could certainly have produced a strong circumstantial case that Henry and Jake Robinson were the real malefactors,” Ford’s petition states.
||Death Penalty Issues