If it weren’t for Caddo Parish, capital punishment would have been largely phased out in Louisiana by now.
And Caddo largely owes its pre-eminence to just two prosecutors, Dale Cox and Hugo Holland. Of the eight death sentences handed down in the last five years, Cox takes credit for four and Holland for two. Such numbers suggest they approach their grisly duty with relish. Indeed Cox, who is chief assistant district attorney up there, recently said it is a shame that executions aren’t more frequent.
The occasion for that heartwarming pronouncement was a recent letter to the editor in the Shreveport Times from Marty Stroud, who, 30 years ago, occupied the same position in the DA’s office as Cox does now. In that capacity, Stroud managed to have Glenn Ford convicted of first-degree murder.
Fortunately for Ford, and for Stroud, the state is much better at imposing the death sentence than at carrying it out. Ford was released from death row last year after new evidence established his innocence. In his letter, Stroud called for the abolition of the death penalty, calling it “barbaric,” and apologized to Ford, who, he averred, deserved to be paid for all his years in hellish confinement.
Several days later, a state judge denied Ford’s request for compensation. Not that it will make much difference to Ford, because he is dying of lung cancer and is probably way past expecting a fair shake in Louisiana.
It took Cox 10 months to sign off on Ford’s release after evidence surfaced showing the conviction was a mistake. While Ford may have regarded that delay as excessive, Cox is evidently a patient man. “Every effort was made” to verify the new information, he said, suggesting that Ford was out of there pretty much in a jiffy. “It concerned me the most that we handled it timely. Don’t sit on this another year or two. You can outthink yourself on this stuff,” Cox said.
While Stroud’s views on the death penalty have come full circle, so have Cox’s. It is a long time since he was opposed to it, however, and he is not about to change his mind again just because Ford has joined Louisiana’s long line of exonerated death row inmates.
Cox agrees with Stroud that capital punishment is “state-assisted revenge.” But whereas that is one reason Stroud is for abolition, it is precisely why Cox takes the opposite view. Cox does not believe the death penalty is a deterrent, because we allow the condemned to linger too long. He just thinks society is entitled to take its revenge and is being short-changed these days.
“I think we need to kill more people,” he said. He believes “we’re going the wrong way with the death penalty; we need it more than ever, and we’re using it less now.” He and Holland have certainly done their best to keep the executions coming.
Holland is no longer on the DA’s staff in Caddo. He and another assistant, Leah Hall, who was also on the prosecution team in four of the successful capital cases, were fired in 2012 after obtaining a slew of automatic rifles from the Federal Property Assistance Agency to be used in the course of highly hazardous — but imaginary — joint operations with police and sheriff’s departments.
Holland and Hall remain in the prosecution game in various Louisiana jurisdictions. Hall last year pulled a gun on a colleague in the Claiborne Parish DA’s office. Holland is currently under investigation by the state bar’s Disciplinary Board for failing to turn over evidence favorable to David Brown, one of five Angola lifers tried in 2012 for the murder of a guard. Brown’s death sentence was thrown out late last year.
Cox, meanwhile, remains much possessed by death in Caddo Parish and is fond of invoking Scripture when urging juries to show no mercy. Such is his dedication that he is sometimes accused of dirty pool; when the state Supreme Court hears the appeal of Lamondre Tucker next month, for instance, attorneys are expected to argue that Cox tainted the sentencing phase with a false account of an earlier shooting.
It is a life-or-death issue such as the court would seldom confront, if Caddo Parish weren’t so out of step.
James Gill’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.