1400 Washington AveAlbanyNY
1400 Washington AveAlbanyNY

Alvin Ford Papers

1965-1995

PDF Version

Abstract

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.

Summary

Creator:
Ford, Alvin Bernard, -1991
Date Coverage:
1965-1995
Quantity:
5.4 cubic ft.  1 video processed to date

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.

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.

The collection is organized into the following series:

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.

Processed by: Rob Taglianetti

Collection record created by: This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on

Published: 2017-04-14 10:45:33 -0400

Encoded in EAD by Yvonne Kester, 2013

Archival materials can be view in-person during business hours in our reading room, located on the top floor of the Science Library on the Uptown Campus.

We can also deliver digital scans for remote research for a fee.

Access to this record group is unrestricted.

Copyright Statement

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.

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

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]).

Contents of Collection

Quantity: 3.8 cubic ft.

Arranged alphabetically.

This series contains legal records that are mostly official court proceedings of the Alvin Ford cases covering a period of seventeen years. These cases include State of Florida v. Ford: 1974, which covers the original trial court proceedings. Later cases that bear the same style relate to later attempts of Ford on a motion for post conviction relief and stay of execution in 1981 and a second attempt in 1987. Ford v. State of Florida:1975-1988, Ford v. Strickland et al.: 1981-1984, Ford v. Wainwright: 1981-1988, and Ford v. Dugger: 1986-1991 all represent the trial cases Ford's attorneys filed against a succession of superintendents of the Florida State Prison and secretaries of the Department of Corrections. Other proceedings include multiple trials, pleas, motions, hearings, testimonies, and appeals. Other legal records are background studies on Ford that include detailed psychiatric evaluations, medical and prison records, case summaries, and undated notes by Laurin Wollan.

BoxFolderContentsDate

eca5d8e56eef76baae8310182e3371f6

1 1Argument for Insanityca. 1984-1986

50993c726c135a64dc7f16b555a7563b

1 2Attorney Notes1974-1991

45122bd30a2e188835321f0500f6ecc8

1 3Attorney Notes1974-1991

b376091c8a545aa2ebf2387eb8de8ac7

1 4Attorney Notes1974-1991

b82b418d7f3e5dc10767c50c00431d7f

1 5Attorney Notes1974-1991

dd8d2e526ea195a70123e35bb331da46

1 6Autopsy Testimony, Medical Examiner1974

015fdaa559b0e6dab2ad0e34e2fe2e3e

1 7Background Report, Ford1974-1981

3a9bd851909201b484dd6f92febd2f99

1 8Biography, Ford1981

29c4df2edfc3b4a7d8ce59bf6a3f6e4d

1 9Case Summaries, Ford1981

20f9927246fefbcb638fb08ed84d3577

1 10Clemency Hearing1981

a07e845494bf85e00684d1356158c308

1 11Death Warrant, Ford1981

75b6fb18a090cf3dba90dc63f92ec0c2

1 12Deposition of Witnesses1981

840c978f4f2d294730a149782945ee6c

1 13Ford v. Dugger1986-1988

e2bcf0d89d472d3e5c8b3b47dccf9821

1 14Ford v. Dugger1988

9c1e7305a40c76389cb7670cafe6b739

1 15Ford v. Dugger1988

449904e0a112f150a71be0517d1cb463

1 16Ford v. Dugger1988

2216c7995e2a8831642e31584650722e

1 17Ford v. Dugger1988

e7fde9def496f37b39d775527a429826

1 18Ford v. Dugger1989-1991

2697a8137e8932a1a293a94fb26db08c

1 19Ford v. State of Florida1975-1977

1a7e5433a840d15cbbdba2de3a625df1

2 1Ford v. State of Florida1979-1981

bada4519fc31c3eebc700a3d3441917c

2 2Ford v. State of Florida1981

c7a5e9c9ec5e1de8cc85f264b48ec1bb

2 3Ford v. State of Florida1981

0557792c3f3ec61e06f6771388d01df5

2 4Ford v. State of Florida1984-1988

2be3fecd1f5760a595cba19a95698efe

2 5Ford v. Strickland et al.1981

5cc6e0971c103468b8e15a4747ef8954

2 6Ford v. Strickland et al.1981

eeecc0e46e9ee74bc203f8a73ab0feb7

2 7Ford v. Strickland et al.1981

1532496c73e8a88997aac19243e0a75e

2 8Ford v. Strickland et al.1982

5efabc8251c1b934e48de772a1e30a1a

2 9Ford v. Strickland et al.1982

ed38577cce61a031b07c7db69bcfe80a

2 10Ford v. Strickland et al.1982

7beeba7a1b4c8d3477012177f96d6f9f

2 11Ford v. Strickland et al.1982

f61b2cab64d1051d578ac2ae7e069481

2 12Ford v. Strickland et al.1982

9e8404cc0185b25683401bc7b9c40fa2

2 13Ford v. Strickland et al.1982

9ececcf30e36da7aeef28fb506812972

2 14Ford v. Strickland et al.1983

265c679eb25016ac037e8f92851952f8

2 15Ford v. Strickland et al.1983

edf1a6184440f87285c467854ac84046

2 16Ford v. Strickland et al.1983

bbbad6cb6e3a85b919519d671f8d9a68

2 17Ford v. Strickland et al.1984

1613dbcdd34ec53b929eb3737d911200

3 1Ford v. Wainwright1981-1984

e0a27c7761df8de0b3dc027fb4e96ebc

3 2Ford v. Wainwright1984

452dc988c4612c0843926946af854ad2

3 3Ford v. Wainwright1984

dc46135552fcc442e7d469fb96d76c3d

3 4Ford v. Wainwright1984

2db2f0a2ed3cf191724e096cec579efa

3 5Ford v. Wainwright1984-1985

b38788597b6aa808b7a849957fb0f1be

3 6Ford v. Wainwright1985

22f69f314e7f5e2be81e66e24f3aa5c3

3 7Ford v. Wainwright1985

f957ae870e20a71424188772c301d13b

3 8Ford v. Wainwright1985-1986

9d9f0711d66128de6cbd330f6d8ed7d5

3 9Ford v. Wainwright1986

124ea8148deba54e8fdc4892f339148b

3 10Ford v. Wainwright1987-1988

06ca5bd921ac5073875dd29d5049a963

3 11Interview Transcript, Wollan and Ford1983

d216d4c09e67505393a5274d91777c89

3 12Prison Medical Records1975-1989

f0f52c22a6d6f375c275e65e61d575c3

3 13Prison Record1981

08d2badc0c6951a7a51a4a65fe993ce6

3 14Proceedings to Determine Sanity1983

cd4f32b18461fda955966b0834516d48

3 15Proceedings to Determine Sanity1983

b443f885b492fbec0ff46c10812b87db

3 16Psychiatric Reports1975-1988

dac37d036cf96a55c5516b38f4992b4c

3 17Social and Criminal History1981

083630bb00499d230dc7a46c7f3f3111

4 1State of Florida v. Ford1974

c3f8c7ffe269d3a526aad07030219103

4 2State of Florida v. Ford1974

0659b7f79e1b9f8f8f0b30506bd9316b

4 3State of Florida v. Ford1974

ffce2c0c5499dae74a06e2782fbf4686

4 4State of Florida v. Ford1974

80fc4621af1f48456d3bf0e09078f8e4

4 5State of Florida v. Ford1974

fc8d2ab2f914e29cdc46c16d139446dd

4 6State of Florida v. Ford1974

f4d3737b3649000e8db33417483c4055

4 7State of Florida v. Ford1974

1fc59ac9e7df0e635bc980fee5105327

4 8State of Florida v. Ford1974

6747ceef58d864e771bec614d0dc8886

4 9State of Florida v. Ford1981

124202e81264f71e032f2679b5daaecf

4 10State of Florida v. Ford1981

e555b36c7fcf750884b26a7b3170be8e

4 11State of Florida v. Ford1981

a2a36aa3ee5fa58e3d8e1c60a0f959b4

4 12State of Florida v. Ford1981

e6388ade11fbc4602043b2baeaf3255b

4 13State of Florida v. Ford1981
Quantity: 1.26 cubic ft.

Arranged by size and alphabetically thereafter.

This series contains the research material that Ford's defense team accumulated over the course of their representation of Ford and includes research material from years prior to and after the case. This series contains notes on cases in progress as well as some material from related cases. There are newsletters, briefings, pamphlets, bulletins, essays, reports, and publications which discuss anti-death penalty and related legal issues. Also included are photocopies of selections from various undated publications about the death penalty. This series represents literature from a wide spectrum of death penalty abolitionists. Several folders contain news clippings organized by year that give a good overview of related death penalty cases and issues. Many of the news clippings were photocopied before deposit in the Department of Special Collections and Archives, while others required preservation photocopying. Also of note are several papers on death penalty issues written by professors and others representing law schools and universities in the United States.

BoxFolderContentsDate

73dea4a6660fa01de94d87a4790292f2

1 1Death Penalty, News Clippings1972-1980

82cc144ace1fa3ff1051b99b049cd570

1 2Death Penalty, News Clippings1981-1983

ba28e764963347297a58660831900402

1 3Death Penalty, News Clippings1984

3b4d3ee1754dee3134209e5a6875cdfa

1 4Death Penalty, News Clippings1985-1987

9a39658586224824099931e211722b32

1 5Death Penalty, News Clippings1988-1995

662a32fdf51f658bd8af6e03406661f4

1 6Death Penalty, Newsletters1980-1989

a674c023c2b5eb99862efc948101214a

2 1Death Penalty, Publicationsca. 1974-1990

508365b1b16a43cdf89f0dce79659376

2 2Ineffectiveness Case1980-1981

f97906362360e2cf27c151a0201f0d23

2 3Race and Death Penalty in Florida, Report1984

75a296fabc560c1e07bca4fb01087d59

3 1Bibliography, Death Penalty Publications1986

f10f94cd06575a04f546a963fa8d6bee

3 2Capitol Punishment, National Prisoner Statistics Bulletin1978-1984

45d233358d0816d07d4d612137d62ec8

3 3Capitol Punishment, National Prisoner Statistics Bulletin1974-1976

bd576f71d74d61a615900a0d19779d5d

3 4Death Penalty, Briefing, Amnesty International1986

bd59db181e73064980a3a52058d8ba66

3 5Death Penalty, Cases, Other1981-1989

8d7fe82af128a4ec5d9d2d8e8ff0a903

3 6Death Penalty, Essays1977-1989

9ae0bf4e54bd2e1dc4fcfb38c951892e

3 7Death Penalty, Journals1983-1986

9511fdc878b89db69a55c60cc89a3e1e

3 8Death Penalty, Pamphlets1978-1990

f725752b7d2cc86cbb280e06bb179b68

3 9Death Penalty, Legal Procedures1978

5854bb4185f1fe63be585313935fe106

3 10Death Penalty, Publicationsca. 1974-1990

0628242e87c93715446b1b988c85445c

4 1Death Penalty, Publicationsca. 1974-1990

5598d5a451ad00b19682d7529bf265df

4 2Death Penalty, Publicationsca. 1974-1990

fa8f8488452735c9eb4e4960e6858930

4 3Death Penalty, Publicationsca. 1974-1990

163d6ab6220cdcbd82e6a76f50a5efdd

4 4Death Penalty, Publicationsca. 1974-1990

02caa3630870f923bcebd5b52db65e62

4 5Death Penalty, Publications, Reports1980-1986

ca956c0ac90b595c1f60f13495af060f

4 6Death Penalty, Research Papers1980-1990

938c2181c40aa1907d7eb268f79606f2

4 7Death Penalty, Research Papers, Michael Radelet1981-1985
Quantity: 0.17 cubic ft.

Arranged alphabetically.

This series contains correspondence organized alphabetically by type (sent/received) and by year within each folder. A folder containing character references is noteworthy. These character references were written between late June and early August of 1981, around the time of Ford's parole hearings and clemency case. They are written by his mother, brother, teachers, and friends of the family who knew Ford all of his life. They testify that Ford was a normal, above-average individual who none believed was bent toward murder. Of particular significance is a letter from one of Ford's teachers, Richard Curtis, who said Ford was a model teenager even winning an award for a science project. Correspondence received by Ford are mostly carbon copies retained by Wollan of letters he had sent to Ford. Letters sent by Ford are not represented in this series since they are located within a set of legal papers used in a trial to prove Ford's sanity. They are located in Series One in the folder, Proceedings to Determine Sanity. The General Correspondence folder contains letters that list Laurin Wollan as the recipient of carbon copies, but are not addressed to or from Wollan. Correspondence received by Wollan are usually letters from fellow lawyers and the folders of correspondence sent are carbon copies retained by Wollan that he sent to various individuals.

BoxFolderContentsDate

6d89075a851b69de7543df95543418f7

1 1Ford, Received1981-1988

abf5365a36d1b96b8bac7cb10df8e2eb

1 2General1981-1990

715d6d4ed29db706bbcf089cc94d3789

1 3Wollan, Received1981-1990

0a35e35db8b4a63a1854698d72e78531

1 4Wollan, Sent1981-1988
Quantity: 0.17 cubic ft.

Arranged chronologically.

This series contains newspaper and magazine articles, most of which are photocopied, about the Ford case. This series also contains a folder related to Ford's death and funeral. Also represented are a small collection of photographs of Ford at various ages and photographs of his attorneys. There is a short note from Connie Ford, Alvin's mother, to Attorney Wollan concerning a video of the Ford funeral, which is also contained in this collection. The most important resource in this series is the news clippings, which are very helpful in following the progression of the Ford case. The news clippings cover most major events in the Ford case. In addition to collecting news clippings, Laurin Wollan had an assistant visit Gainesville, Florida, where Ford was apprehended, and the assistant photocopied all articles from area papers that reported on the Ford story from 1974 to 1975.

BoxFolderContentsDate

92c801d9b9f73680cc6a323081a8c3e8

1 1Ford, Character References1981

a6ecc32ff24a783acaa0510fdbdf43a7

1 2Death of Alvin Ford1991

6fc98fed92dd5306f7a42d3f4293afae

1 3Ford, Connie, Correspondence1991

40d9bf637533768deaa8819bd88b0045

1 4News Clippings1974-1981

72ac410566d6f30df672f0fcb1198708

1 5News Clippings1982-1992

c0f6c219cc9bafaa593934a9fcf8400d

1 6Photographs1965-1993

68d236bae6e70cf3180cc4f684d743fc

VHS 1Ford Funeral VHS Video1991