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I remember Isadore Rozeman. I can't find a photo of him online, but my memory says he was a small man who looked older than his 56 years, with thin hair and thick horn-rimmed glasses. He had cataracts and was legally blind. He is described as "elderly" in some accounts. (I wonder where they got that. Maybe from one of my old stories? I hope not.)

In 1983, Rozeman was my neighbor, a couple of blocks and around the corner, in Shreveport's Stoner Hill neighborhood. It wasn't a good neighborhood; it was what I could afford. I was living across the street from a den of anarcho-syndicalists in what federal statistics defined as one of the two or three most murderous cities in America, but when someone broke into my car and took my cassette deck it made me mad, not afraid.

Maybe Isadore Rozeman was afraid. Anyway, he was careful. He ran a small jewelry and watch repair shop out of his home and preferred his customers call ahead. He kept his shop locked, opening it only after he'd established who was on his porch. He kept a lot of small, valuable items that could be easily fenced in his shop. He was aware of the crime rate.

I was a cop reporter on an afternoon daily that aggressively reported on the ways human beings breached the social contract. Some days I would have five or six stories on the newspaper's front page. I was properly empathetic when I spoke to victims' families. I understood how lives could be disrupted and hearts shattered by the fundamentally selfish acts of criminals, but I knew crime was good for my business. It provided me with interesting work.

Someone killed Isadore Rozeman on a Saturday morning or afternoon in November. It must have been a terrifying event. They made him lie down on the floor before they shot him behind the right ear, through a duffel bag full of dirty clothes. The police surmised the killer used the bag to shield himself from Rozeman's blood. They also found a paper sack at the scene, crumpled in such a way as to lead the police to believe it had been used as a glove. They later were able to pull a partial fingerprint off the sack, a whorl pattern that could have been left by roughly a third of the people on the planet. The parish coroner offered the opinion that whoever shot Rozeman was left-handed.

There was other information. Rozeman employed Glenn Ford as his yard man. Ford was a black man, a poor man who lived in a nearby transient hotel. He was a few days behind on his rent. Someone said they'd seen him arguing with Rozeman--maybe over money--a few days before.

Police began looking for Ford almost immediately. The next morning, Ford came down to the police station and gave a statement. He said two brothers, Henry and Jake Robinson, were scary men who probably committed the murder. They were known to the police. He would cooperate throughout the investigation, up until the time--three months later--when he, the Robinson brothers and George Starks were charged with Rozeman's murder.

A few days after the murder, police searched Ford's hotel room and found an array of demitasse spoons and shirt studs, gold chains and a pill box. They found more items likely taken from Rozeman in a nearby pawn shop. Ford had signed the receipts. Ford was left-handed. His fingerprints were whorled. Another expert testified particles of gunshot residue were on Ford's hands when he showed up at the police station.

And Marvella Brown, the girlfriend of Jake Robinson, told police she'd seen Ford, her boyfriend and his brother on the day of the murder. They had left together, and when they returned later in the day, Ford had a bag full of watches and rings and a gun stuck in his waistband. It was an open-and-shut--if largely circumstantial--case. It didn't matter when, on cross-examination, Brown recanted her story. ("I did lie to the court ... I lied about it all," she said.) It took less than three hours for an all-white jury to convict Ford. He was sentenced to death.

Charges against other defendants were quietly dropped.

Ford insisted he was innocent. He filed appeals that cited certain problems with his trial: his court-appointed attorneys, selected from an alphabetical list, had never tried a criminal, much less a capital case, before. They didn't call their own experts to challenge the state's because they believed they'd have to pay them out of their own pockets. They didn't know how to subpoena out-of-state witnesses. The prosecutor had systematically excluded black people from the jury. Ford cited technicality after technicality.

For 15 years he fought the state's efforts to execute him. None of his appeals were successful. Until 2000.

That's when the Louisiana Supreme Court ordered a hearing on a petition for a new trial filed by a group called the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana. The state got around to holding that hearing in 2004, and expert witnesses disputed the coroner's findings. Another expert pointed out the tiny amount of gunshot residue found on Ford's hands was consistent with just being in a police station where such residue is common. And the whorled fingerprint found on the bag, well, could have belonged to anybody--even the Robinson brothers, who had been fingered as the murderers by several police informants as well as several anonymous phone calls. Evidence was presented that detectives lied when they testified about statements Ford had made during his interrogation.

Naturally, the post-conviction motion for a new trial was denied. Ford was returned to death row.

Then, in 2012, the Capital Post-Conviction Project filed a federal habeas corpus petition. While it was pending, the district attorney re-investigated the case and found that police had ignored an informant who told them Jake Robinson admitted shooting Rozeman. Other evidence put Ford somewhere else at the time of the murder. The prosecutor did the honorable thing and moved to vacate the conviction. About a year ago, after spending nearly 30 years on death row, they let Glenn Ford out of prison.

Ford's first execution date was Feb. 28, 1991. While he was on death row, Louisiana executed 26 other inmates. He was the 10th death row inmate exonerated in Louisiana since 1973.

Ford might have been guilty of receiving stolen goods--he admits one of the Robinsons gave him stolen jewelry and asked him to pawn it, though he maintains he didn't know it was from Rozeman's store. But he can't prove he didn't murder Isadore Rozeman, so the state is denying his request for compensation for wrongful imprisonment.

Maybe that doesn't matter so much. Ford has stage four lung cancer. He alleges prison doctors found markers for cancer in 2011 and denied him care. He's suing over that too. He has grandchildren.

A couple of months after Ford was let out of prison, Jake Robinson was arrested for an unrelated murder. Police say he's a suspect in four others. His brother Henry has been arrested in connection with one of them.

The Isadore Rozeman case remains open and unsolved.


Editorial on 03/27/2015

Print Headline: An open-and-shut case open again

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