Alvin Ford Papers, 1965-1995
- Ford, Alvin Bernard, -1991
- This collection documents the seventeen-year period (1974-1991) concerning the Florida capital punishment case of Alvin Ford. The collection primarily contains the court records and research material of Ford's attorney, Laurin A. Wollan, Jr., as well as other members of the Ford defense team who began work on the case in 1981. The legal records include official court proceedings from the initial trial in 1974, appeals, attempts at clemency, and several cases by Ford against the Florida Department of Corrections. Other legal records include psychological reports, background reports, biographies of Ford, as well as his prison and medical records.
- 5.4 cubic ft.
- English and English
- Preferred citation:
- Preferred citation for this material is as follows: and Identification of specific item, series, box, folder, Alvin Ford Papers, 1965-1995. M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University at Albany, State University of New York (hereafter referred to as [shortened name]).
Access and Use
- Conditions Governing Access:
Access to this record group is unrestricted.
The researcher assumes full responsibility for conforming with the laws of copyright. Whenever possible, the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives will provide information about copyright owners and other restrictions, but the legal determination ultimately rests with the researcher. Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be discussed with the Head of Special Collections and Archives.
- Scope and Content:
This collection documents the seventeen year period (1974-1991) concerning the Florida capital punishment case of Alvin Ford. The collection primarily contains the court records and research material of Ford's attorney, Laurin A. Wollan, Jr., as well as other members of the Ford defense team who began work on the case in 1981. The legal records include official court proceedings from the initial trial in 1974, appeals, attempts at clemency, and several cases by Ford against the Florida Department of Corrections. Other legal records include psychological reports, background reports, biographies of Ford, as well as his prison and medical records.
Several participants are represented in the collection over the case's duration. Robert Adams represented Ford from his initial trial until his appeal to the Florida Supreme Court was denied on July 18, 1979. A community organizer from the Florida Clearing House on Criminal Justice, Scharlette Holdman, located a volunteer lawyer, Deborah Fins, to represent Ford in his petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court and continued to consult for the Ford case over the next 10 years. After his certiorari case was denied, Holdman and Deborah Fins recruited a more experienced lawyer, Laurin A. Wollan, to represent Ford in his 1981 clemency hearings. Wollan took the case pro bono and continued to work on Ford's behalf over the next 10 years. Wollan was a 1962 graduate of the University of Chicago Law School. He served as a state's attorney in Illinois, spent four years with the U.S. Department for Justice, and was a member of the Florida State University faculty beginning in 1976. Although he was a death penalty supporter and a former prosecutor, his compassion for Ford's circumstance led him to accept the case on a pro bono basis. The size and scope of the files he created reveal Wollan's efforts on Ford's behalf, for example, as Ford's clemency hearing quickly approached in mid-1981, he was without legal representation. Wollan was asked to take the case and over the next six weeks, from August through October, he worked solely on the Ford case as he struggled to acquaint himself with the details of the case. Attorney Richard Burr joined Wollan in volunteering to represent Ford just as Ford's first execution approached in 1981. Both remained on the Ford case until his death. A number of state officials are found throughout the case's legal documents including: Florida Governor Bob Graham who had the power to grant clemency to Ford; circaE. "Sonny" Strickland who was superintendent of the Florida State Prison; and Louie Wainwright and Richard Dugger who were Secretaries of the Department of Corrections for the State of Florida.
Ford's attorneys collected many articles, pamphlets, and publications on the subject of the death penalty. The research material in this collection represents many organizations, most of which oppose the death penalty. These include the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, National Coalition Against the Death Penalty, ACLU, Florida Clearing House on Criminal Justice, Amnesty International, Institute for Southern Studies, Florida Citizens Against the Death Penalty, and the Florida Conference Against Death Penalty. The collection also reveals the sentiment of these anti-death penalty groups during a time of resurgent support for the death penalty. The news clippings are a comprehensive part of the research material covering many death penalty cases in Florida spanning two decades.
The collection contains court records from at least six specific trials and many other appeals and motions that, besides chronicling the case, demonstrate one of the arguments which many anti-death penalty advocates utilize, that a death penalty case costs more than a sentence of life imprisonment. The collection is strongly enhanced by a separate collection of news clippings that directly relate to the Ford case. These news clippings are very helpful in understanding how the case developed.
While the collection contains a variety of records covering not only the legal aspects of the case, but also Ford himself, and presents a thorough example of the nature of representing a death penalty defendant, it is understandably limited to death penalty issues as they relate to the state of Florida. The implications, however, of the Supreme Court ruling on the Ford case in 1986, that a mentally ill prisoner cannot be executed and the resultant change in Florida and other states' laws concerning the process of identifying mentally ill prisoners, is what makes this collection so valuable.
Additional material for the Alvin Ford Collection was received from Michael Radelet in January 2006. This material is not yet inventoried in this finding aid.
Related collections in the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives can be found at the web site for the National Death Penalty Archive.
- Biographical / Historical:
Alvin Bernard Ford (1953-1991) was convicted of first-degree murder in the slaying of a police officer in a failed robbery attempt in Florida on July 21, 1974. Ford entered prison at the age of 20 and was sentenced to die by electrocution in two separate criminal proceedings. He remained on death row until his death of natural causes on February 28, 1991 at the age of 37.
Ford was fighting depression and a drug addiction when he became involved in a robbery attempt at a Red Lobster restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale Florida in 1974. Ford's three accomplices left him at the scene with police approaching. In a panicked state, Ford chose to escape by taking the car of a police officer who was not aware of the severity of the situation when he arrived alone. Ford shot the officer twice in the abdomen and once in the back of the head while retrieving the officer's car keys. After being apprehended at his mother's home in Gainesville, Florida, Ford spent his first six years in prison under normal health conditions. In late 1981, at the end of the appeals process and within hours of his execution, Ford's mental condition deteriorated dramatically. For the next nine years he moved in and out of schizophrenia, which finally developed into sustained psychosis by the time his second death warrant was signed in 1984.
The Alvin Ford case was lengthy in part because of the questions that had not been answered adequately until his case was brought before the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court's verdict in the Ford case brought stricter guidelines than previously existed for determining if someone is mentally fit to defend himself in trial and whether the mentally ill should receive the death penalty. Capital punishment experts Kent S. Miller and Michael L. Radelet have written of the impact the Ford v. Wainwright decision had on the treatment of mentally ill prisoners on death row saying, "Alvin Ford made history as the man who forced the criminal justice authorities, lawyers, judges, politicians, mental heath professionals, and a host of others to seriously debate the question of what types of mental illness should exempt condemned prisoners from execution and how (and by whom) these life-and-death determinations should be made," according to Kent Millar and Michael Radelet, in their book, Executing the Mentally Ill: The Criminal Justice System and the Case of Alvin Ford
The legal process of taking Ford's capital punishment case from arrest to execution in Florida involved many opportunities for him to appeal to circuit courts of appeal, the U.S. and Florida Supreme Courts, and the governor. After Ford's arrest on July 21, 1974, he was tried in December 1974, sentenced in early 1975, and after appeals to the Supreme Courts of Florida and the United States, received his first death warrant signed by Governor Bob Graham on November 4, 1981. The scheduled execution date was December 8, 1981. Fourteen hours before the scheduled execution Ford was granted a stay of execution by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. After further psychiatric evaluations, the governor's committee decided he was competent for execution and signed his second death warrant on April 30, 1984 with a scheduled execution date of May 31, 1984. Once again, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals stepped in fourteen hours before Ford's scheduled execution and granted another stay of execution. When Ford's case was brought before the United States Supreme Court, it ruled on June 26, 1986 that the Eighth Amendment prohibits states from inflicting the death penalty upon prisoners who are insane and found that Florida's procedures for determining sanity had failed to adequately protect Ford's rights. Ford's sanity was not decided, however, and this led to a trial in early 1989 that found Ford competent for execution. The decision by a subsequent appeal to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals was never passed down because Ford was found dead in his cell due to adult respiratory distress syndrome associated with fulminant acute pancreatitis on February 2, 1991.
The Ford case occurred at a time in the history of capital punishment in the United States of a resurgence in a get-tough-on-crime attitude embraced by politicians who pointed, in part, to their stand on the death penalty as evidence that they were tough on crime. This period began during the Nixon administration with some critical changes in the legal system that made capital punishment legal once again in the United States. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Ford case set an important precedent since, up until the case, there were no clear-cut protections shielding the mentally ill from execution. The ruling took the final decision out of an individual governor's hands through clemency hearings and placed it within the court system.
- Acquisition information:
All items in this manuscript group were donated to the University Libraries, M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, by Laurin A. Wollan, Jr. in June 2003. An additional as yet unprocessed accession was received from Michale Radelet in January 2006.
The collection is organized into the following series:
- Processing information:
Processed in 2013 by Rob Taglianetti.
- Medicine and Health Care
Criminal Justice and Prisons
Ford, Alvin Bernard, -1991--Trials, litigation, etc.
Death row inmates--Mental health--United States.
Death row inmates--Florida--Case studies.
Capital punishment--United States--Legal research.
Capital punishment--Florida--Case studies.
Insanity (Law) United States
- Ford, Alvin Bernard, -1991
Wollan, Laurin A., 1937-