News 04.12.11

Exoneree Pushes for Prosecutorial Accountability

“If a private investigator hired by a generous law firm hadn’t found the blood evidence, I’d be dead today. No doubt about it,” wrote John Thompson in a

New York Times op-ed on Sunday

.

Thompson was 22 years old when police arrested him at his grandmother’s house in New Orleans in 1985. He spent 18 years behind bars – 14 of them on death row – at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola for a murder he didn’t commit. It was not until May of 1999, with a seventh and final execution date just weeks ahead, that the investigator hired by Thompson’s legal team uncovered exculpatory evidence.

During his time at Angola, Thompson received six execution dates, exhausting appeals to delay each one. Thompson said that his lawyers told him it would take a miracle to avoid the seventh, writing in his op-ed that he was ready to give up when an investigator discovered a report proving that Thompson was not a match for the blood type of the perpetrator of the robbery.  Prosecutors had knowingly withheld the test results for 15 years. As the Innocence Blog previous reported, the Supreme Court overturned Thompson’s 2005 compensation victory that awarded him $14 million in damages, the majority ruling that the prosecutors were not liable for the failure to turn over the evidence that proved his innocence. Thompson responds:

“I don’t care about the money. I just want to know why the prosecutors who hid evidence, sent me to prison for something I didn’t do and nearly had me killed are not in jail themselves. There were no ethics charges against them, no criminal charges, no one was fired and now, according to the Supreme Court, no one can be sued.”

Former Orleans Parish District Attorney Harry Connick, Sr., called for a grand jury investigation when the hidden evidence first came to light, but cancelled the plans once it became clear how may lawyers from his office had been involved. As Thompson points out, overlooking such serious misconduct and abuse of authority sends the wrong message to those responsible and further jeopardizes inmates wishing to prove their innocence.

“There are more than 4,000 people serving life without parole in Louisiana, almost none of whom have lawyers after their convictions are final. Someone needs to look at those cases to see how many others might be innocent.”

In 2007, Thompson founded a nonprofit called

Resurrection After Exoneration

to make sure that no future exonerees are left to rebuild their lives without proper support.

Most recently, Thompson co-signed a letter with 18 other exonerees, who were also the victims of prosecutorial misconduct, addressed to United States Attorney General Eric Holder

demanding greater accountability for prosecutorial misconduct in response to the Supreme Court’s decision

.

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