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Monday, April 11, 2011

A Powerful Perspective

John Thompson spent 14 years on death row before he was exonerated and set free. But this wasn't a case where advances in forensic technology finally proved a man's innocence; in this case, the prosecutors failed to turn over vital evidence to the defense. Once that evidence came to light, a jury acquitted Thompson after deliberating only 35 minutes.

Thompson sued the district attorney to hold him accountable for failing to ensure that the prosecutors in his office would protect the rights of the innocent. A jury sided with Thompson, and awarded him $14 million -- $1 million for each year he spent on death row.

Last week, the Supreme Court overturned the jury verdict. John Thompson wrote about his experience in a powerful piece for Saturday's New York Times:
I was tried for the robbery first. My lawyers never knew there was blood evidence at the scene, and I was convicted based on the victims’ identification.

After that, my lawyers thought it was best if I didn’t testify at the murder trial... And now that I officially had a history of violent crime because of the robbery conviction, the prosecutors used it to get the death penalty.
Thompson's story of his legal battles is chilling. Even worse is the possibility that because no action was taken to hold the prosecutors accountable for their misconduct, it could happen again.
Amazingly, I got a miracle. The same day that my lawyers visited, an investigator they had hired to look through the evidence one last time found, on some forgotten microfiche, a report sent to the prosecutors on the blood type of the perpetrator of the armed robbery. It didn’t match mine; the report, hidden for 15 years, had never been turned over to my lawyers. The investigator later found the names of witnesses and police reports from the murder case that hadn’t been turned over either.


The prosecutors involved in my two cases, from the office of the Orleans Parish district attorney, Harry Connick Sr., helped to cover up 10 separate pieces of evidence. And most of them are still able to practice law today.

Why weren’t they punished for what they did? When the hidden evidence first surfaced, Mr. Connick announced that his office would hold a grand jury investigation. But once it became clear how many people had been involved, he called it off.
Click here to read the rest of the column.

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