Exoneree Roosevelt Glenn shares story of wrongful conviction
Christopher Parker | Wednesday, March 6, 2019
The Notre Dame Exoneration Project partnered with the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) on Tuesday to host a lecture by Roosevelt Glenn, who was convicted for a rape he did not commit in 1993. The lecture kicked of NLG’s annual Week Against Mass Incarnation, which, according to its website, serves to promote the organization’s call for “the dismantling and abolition of all prisons and of all aspects of systems and institutions that support, condone, create, fill or protect prisons.”
Glenn said his story began in 1989, when Northern Indiana experienced a string of “bump robberies” and rapes. Men would stage a car accident with a victim, attack them and steal their car, he said. Investigators found green coveralls from Glenn’s place of employment at a crime scene and made arrests at a factory safety meeting.
“People walked in, dressed nice in shirts and ties. I thought I was getting an award because I had pulled a guy out of a conveyor belt,” Glenn said. “When they said Roosevelt Glenn, I said, ‘Hey, that’s me,’ then [heard], ‘Get on the ground.’”
Police did not tell Glenn what he was being arrested for until they reached the station, he said.
“I kept thinking, ‘What was going on?’” he said. ”I always believed in the system. I told them I didn’t need an attorney. I hadn’t done anything.”
Glenn said DNA evidence could not link him to the crime scene, but he was still taken to court one month later. After a hung jury could not reach a verdict, the prosecutor secured hair from the crime scene similar in appearance to Glenn’s, as well as three witness testimonies from men in jail who claimed he had confessed to them.
“I would have convicted me,” he said. “They got the blood type, they got the hair, they got the overalls. I just kept thinking ‘How could it happen to me?’”
Glenn was convicted and sentenced to 17 years in prison. After 10, a class of law students led by Indiana University (IU) professor Frances Watson took on his case. Glenn said her attitude was completely different than the lawyers he had dealt with in the past.
“The professor gave me new life,” he said. “She said I didn’t have to convince her of my innocence.”
A retest of the hair from the crime scene took over five years due to intervention from the State, Glenn said. The IU law students also learned the prosecutor withheld evidence misrepresenting the case, yet still the judge denied their petition for Glenn’s release.
“The judge said it’s not enough — petition denied,” Glenn said “I heard my mom crying, so I had to be strong. I told her, ‘Don’t worry. I’m coming home in another year anyway.’ I completed my sentence and came home.”
Glenn’s team continued to work on the case and, on Jan. 30, 2017, he was exonerated.
Glenn said the experience changed the way he looked at the legal system, which he said he had always respected and admired before.
“It’s really hard,” he said. “When you’re growing up in the neighborhoods I grew up in, no one really trusted the police. But I never had a bad encounter, so I believed the system would work. And I got a reality check.”
Glenn said his wrongful sentence and registration as a sex offender was equally hard on his family.
“You can ask my sister, who put her life on hold to defend her brother whom she knew was no rapist,” he said. “You can ask my wife, who had to tell the children that Dad won’t be home for 17 years. You can ask those little children, whom I left at eight, seven and two, how hard it was for them to hear about their dad being a rapist.”
Young lawyers need to change the way society thinks about the courtroom, Glenn added.
“It’s not everybody, it’s just some people,” he said. “The mindset has to be changed … it’s not about winning. It’s not a game, it’s not notches in a belt. You’re destroying family lives, real people.”
In light of his experience, Glenn said he is hopeful for the future of law in this country.
“Professor Watson, she’s the only one in this state trying to help people,” he said. “But the state of Indiana has [been] put on notice. The Notre Dame Exoneration Project is up and running.”
The Week Against Mass Incarceration continues Wednesday and Thursday. Students can visit the Eck Law School Commons from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to write letters to exonerees.