NYT Op-Ed Brings Shame to La. Criminal Justice System

Former death row inmate John Thompson

“I SPENT 18 years in prison for robbery and murder, 14 of them on death row,” John Thompson starts his stirring op-ed piece in this past Sunday’s New York Times.

More than 25 years ago, a Louisiana jury convicted Thompson of capital murder largely off the testimony of a suspect who sold him a stolen ring and the murder weapon. Thompson’s blood did not match the blood recovered from the murder scene. Prosecutors knowingly concealed this key evidentiary item.

Thompson’s op-ed is a hell of a tale and damning in its implications. The miscarriage of justice Thompson introduced the nation to spits in the face of all who believe in Louisiana’s criminal justice system. It also adds fuel to the anti-death penalty movement.

And it’s not like Thompson’s ordeal is unique. Of the six men one of his prosecutors got sentenced to death, five were freed due to prosecutorial misconduct, he noted.

In Thompson’s robbery and homicide cases, Orleans (La.) prosecutors covered up at least 10 pieces of evidence. Yet they continue to practice law in the state. What an embarrassment! (NOTE: I am a Louisiana native.)

Louisiana is accustomed to black eyes. Numerous officers from the New Orleans Police Department were recently convicted in connection with the deaths of civilians following Hurricane Katrina. The state’s higher education system is seemingly in tatters. A study recently named Louisiana the least peaceful state.

But Thompson’s experience takes the proverbial beignet.

It is one thing to believe a man committed a crime based on evidence, only to learn he did not commit that crime. Don’t get me wrong. That’s bad. But it’s not criminal.

To knowingly hide evidence that would exonerate an innocent man just so you can score a conviction is deplorable and could be seen as malfeasance in office. It begs the question, “Why?” Sure, prosecutors want to provide closure for victim’s families, but at what cost?

Speaking of costs, Thompson won a $14 million wrongful imprisonment suit against Orleans Parish following his release from prison. But the U.S. Supreme Court recently voted 5-4 to strip disallow the reward because the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office was not liable for turning over blood tests.

Thompson, to his credit, writes in his piece that the money does not matter to him. He merely wants to know why prosecutors attempted to send him to his death even though signs pointed to another man being the killer.

It’s a pity the Orleans District Attorney’s Office doesn’t seem to care about finding Thompson an answer.

To read Thompson’s op-ed click here.

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