Sunday, May 02, 2010

Meet the Exonerated: Louisiana's Death Row

Altogether eight men, all black, have been found innocent of the crimes that put them on Louisiana's death row. As in many other states, the exonerated are released with no resources.

John Thompson (pictured left, with wife Laverne Thompson) , at the age of 22, was arrested and convicted in 1985 of first degree murder and an attempted carjacking three weeks later.

Ray Liuzza, the son of a wealthy white local hotel owner was murdered, there was a huge media and political outcry. The gun used to shoot the 34-year-old businessman and his ring were traced to Thompson who had unwittingly bought them from the real killer – a local man who was later shot dead.

The father-of-two was 24 when he arrived on death row in Louisiana’s notorious Angola prison where he would spend the next 14-years in a six-by-nine-foot cell with no windows or air conditioning for 23 hours a day. Over the course of his incarceration seven execution dates came and went. A few days before he was due to receive the lethal injection, an investigator re-examining the carjacking uncovered evidence of an unidentified man’s blood on the clothes of one of the robbery victims, who had fought back. This evidence, which later emerged had been deliberately withheld from the trial, was enough to order a retrial.

At his re-trial on the capital murder charge, Thompson was acquitted in thirty-five minutes by a jury in 2003.

“I had exhausted all of my appeals. My son was going to graduate from high school on 21 May. It was going to be the proudest day of his life and he was going to worry about his father being killed,” -- John Thompson.
After his release, John bought a house in the city and set up Resurrection After Exoneration where he welcomes all pardoned prisoners who need help, whether or not they were condemned to death.

The Supreme Court will consider a New Orleans prosecutors' appeal of a $14 million judgment to a former death row inmate who accused them of withholding evidence to help convict him of murder set to go to trial in the fall.

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