A Shreveport lawmaker’s bid to relax the legal definition under which a person wrongfully convicted of murder in Louisiana could receive state compensation was halted Wednesday by a House committee.
The panel struggled with House Bill 1116 to rework the definition of “factual innocence” in current compensation law. Those against the measure said it could allow someone who committed, but was not charged with, a serious crime to sue for state money. While the House criminal justice committee ultimately killed the bill in a 9-6 vote, Democratic Rep. Cedric Glover said he plans to bring it back next year.
Glover said not making a change continues to unfairly penalize exonerated inmates by allowing courts to deny money if they committed any offense, including those not tied to a murder. Glover brought the bill, in part, to retroactively compensate the late Glenn Ford.
Ford, of Shreveport, was imprisoned for 30 years on a death sentence stemming from the 1983 murder of Isadore Rozeman.
Ford walked free from death row in 2014, but courts denied him compensation, saying he helped to plan the armed robbery that led to the murder. An appellate court reaffirmed the decision, but Ford was never charged or convicted with the other crimes. He has since died from lung cancer.
“Essentially, you have to prove yourself innocent of a crime with which you were never charged,” Glover said.
Glover sponsored the original compensation law and urged the committee to improve it and “afford some sense of justice” to the Ford family and other exonerated inmates who may face similar situations.
Pete Adams, executive director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association, opposed any changes to the law, saying the state statute was carefully crafted. He said the change would most likely lead to hundreds of new and costly compensation cases.
Ford, Adams continued, did not receive any state payout after his exoneration because he “did not have clean hands” deserving of money.
“The evidence was not enough to keep him in jail, but it was enough to deny him compensation,” he said.
Rozeman’s nephew, Phillip, spoke against the bill alongside Adams, saying his uncle was the only innocent victim in the case. He asked the House panel to not support a law change that would allow for a “much more liberal use” of the current compensation statute on the “basis of a misunderstood case.”
“Glenn Ford was certainly not an innocent man,” Rozeman said.
Some committee members, though, said exonerated inmates deserve more than empathy from lawmakers.
“Empathy is one thing, but compensation is another,” said Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge. “Just remember this is someone’s life you have taken. Thirty years is a life.”