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Continued: St. Paul lawyers play driving role in release of Louisiana death row inmate

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Last update: March 12, 2014 - 11:18 PM

Ellis said she’s a “Dougling,” one of a couple of dozen Minnesota defense lawyers nurtured by Thomson. Working alongside him, she participated in the defense of some of the most notorious cases in state history. A room at her office is devoted to courtroom sketches of Thomson, as well as such clients as Lois Jurgens, Roger Caldwell, Connie Trimble and June Mikulanec.

Thomson, who died in 2007 at age 77, is responsible for putting Ellis on Ford’s case. In the 1980s, Louisiana lawyers were saturated with death penalty appeals and asking for help from colleagues in other states. Thompson agreed to take on Ford’s case. He put Ellis on it and underwrote the cost for years, she said.

In 1990, Ellis and Walker spent a week in Shreveport, La., working night and day to reinvestigate the case against Ford.

“From the get-go, [Walker] and I had a vision of Glenn walking out of prison, and he didn’t live to see it,” Ellis said, her voice cracking as she added that Thomson, as well, didn’t get to see Ford freed.

With word of Ford’s freedom, Ellis said strangers and long-lost acquaintances have reached out to thank her. She’s going to let the whirlwind settle before she reaches out to speak with Ford.

He was her only death penalty defendant.

“I can’t imagine a whole caseload of them,” she said, but added, “There isn’t a better fight in criminal defense work.”


Staff writer Mary Lynn Smith and the Associated Press contributed to this report. Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747 Twitter: @rochelleolson


  • related content

  • It was "a reminder to fight the good fight," said attorney Deborah Ellis, on this photo of then death-row inmate Glenn Ford.

  • In a frame grab from video, Glenn Ford, center, walked out of prison Tuesday in Angola, La., a free man.

  • St. Paul lawyer Deborah Ellis read Wednesday from a copy of Ford's death warrant ordering his electrocution in February 1991.

  • It was "a reminder to fight the good fight," said attorney Deborah Ellis, on this photo of then death-row inmate Glenn Ford.

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