I was talking to Will over the weekend about Glenn Ford — the recently exonerated Louisiana man who had spent 30 years on death row. He’s been in the news recently, because the state is refusing to pay full restitution to him. Meanwhile, Ford has stage four lung cancer. He has been released just in time to die. And the state is messing with him. The judge in the case claimed that “he did not have clean hands.” This is because he knew those who did commit the crime, but despite what the judge says, there is actually little evidence that he was majorly involved in the crime. But what does it matter? Ford is poor, black, old, and dying. The state of Louisiana is showing the kind of callousness that we expect.
But Will thought I was talking about a different case. Anthony Ray Hinton was convicted of two murders a year after Ford in the similarly enlightened state of Alabama. He spent 28 years is solitary confinement in a 40 square foot cell. But that is the least of the injustices done to him. Hinton had no criminal record. The police tried to get him for the non-fatal shooting of a man working at a restaurant. As usual with these cases, the only evidence against him was an eye-witness — the victim himself. But it turned out that Hinton could not have committed the crime. So the police went searching for a crime that they could charge him with.
Five months earlier, two managers at a fast food restaurant were murdered. There was no evidence, but the police decided that Hinton had done it. They searched his house and found a pistol that belonged to his mother. The prosecution claimed that the gun was used in both crimes. Hinton’s public defender did not counter this — probably because he didn’t know he could have requested extra funds to hire a ballistics expert. It was determined much later that not only was that not the gun used in the crimes, the two crimes were committed with different guns. Hinton was railroaded.
There is much more to the case. You can read Steven D’s excellent overview if you feel like being enraged, Alabama AG: “No Comment.” That title is in reference to the fact that the Alabama Attorney General had no comment on the case, even after the state had spent over a decade fighting a retrial after experts discovered that Hinton must be innocent. (The case had to go to the Supreme Court before Alabama would grant a retrial.)
I think it is interesting that Will and I could be confused about similar cases. This is because there are so many of them. And the total apathy of those in the “judicial” system is staggering. But I guess it goes along with the American attitude that it is more important to look like you are doing something than to actually accomplish something. In this case, rather than actively seek justice, prosecutors and judges just try to stop the world from knowing about the injustices that they create every day. In the case of Glenn Ford, they were probably hoping that he would just die in prison.
Meanwhile, no one is held accountable. The prosecutor in Hinton’s case was a known racist who was allowed to say in court that he knew Hinton was evil just by looking at him. I’ve tried to find the name of the prosecutor, but I have been unable. He’s probably dead anyway. And if he isn’t, there will be no public shaming, much less professional or economic penalties. (To his credit, Ford’s prosecutor has apologized and has advocated for him.) The police who railroaded Hinton doubtless got raises for bringing down such a dangerous criminal. And it is not clear if Hinton will receive any compensation from the state. Another day for justice in America.