From left, Charles Edret Ford, attorneys Mary Pizzo and William Renahan

La Plata, MD – After 64 years in prison, Charles Edret Ford, 84, is far from being a free man, but at least he won’t be sitting in the Maryland Department of Corrections.

Charles County Circuit Court Judge H. James West allowed Ford to be transferred to the Blue Point Nursing Rehabilitation Center in Baltimore, where he will receive medical treatment for a hernia and other medical problems.

Ford will remain there until his retrial in January on a robbery charge he picked up in 1975 while in prison. West made the ruling on his birthday Friday, Dec. 18. As it turns out, Ford’s birthday is Dec. 19.

“We’d like to give him a birthday cake,” Defense Attorney William Renahan told West. “He hasn’t had any in 64 years.”

Renahan and Mary Pizzo have represented Ford pro bono since they took up his case last year. Pizzo told the court Ford now has five generations of relatives who have stepped forward since reading of his case on The BayNet.

“They are going to be visiting him,” she said. “They are going to be a resource for him. His family is very excited.”

Charles County Assistant State’s Attorney Constance Kopelman argued that Ford should not be released.

“He committed a brutal crime,” she said. “The victim in this case, Vincent Lewis, was shot. He [Ford] shot him by shooting through the head of Emma Washington. When he discovered Lewis wasn’t deceased, he beat his brains out with the shotgun butt. Mr. Lewis can’t be with his family for Christmas. When you’re given a life sentence, you’re going to grow old in jail.”

“I’m probably the oldest person in this courtroom,” Renahan told the court. “When Mr. Ford went to prison I was in first grade. He was judged by an all-white jury. His attorney, Morris Flynn, was not a trial lawyer. He had alibi witnesses who weren’t called. The two witnesses who did testify contradicted each other.

“The only reason they gave him a life sentence is because it was a black on black crime,” he asserted. “If it had been black on white, he would have gotten the death penalty. This was the South. To say he had a fair trial, it simply is not true.”

“I didn’t commit no such crime,” Ford stated. “I didn’t kill that man. I wasn’t there.”

“I don’t have to get into whether the jury was fair,” West said. “To me, as I sit here, trying to do what is fair, I am going to grant the motion to reconsider the life sentence. I’m going to suspend all but 63 years, nine months and 30 days. My guess is, if he hadn’t picked up the second charge while he was in jail, he would have been paroled in the ‘70s.”

West said he would release Ford to Blue Point in Baltimore, but would not allow him to go free.

“It’s either there or the Charles County Detention Center,” he said.

The judge did allow Ford to meet with family members after the ruling. There, they shared a German chocolate birthday cake, Ford’s favorite.

Contact Joseph Norris at joe.norris@thebaynet.com