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02-10-07, 06:09 PM #1
$14 million for exonerated ex-inmate
La. man cleared in killing spent 18 years in prison, most on death row
The Associated Press
Updated: 8:26 p.m. ET Feb 9, 2007
NEW ORLEANS - A federal jury awarded $14 million Friday to a former death row inmate who came within weeks of execution but was exonerated.
John Thompson, 40, maintained through 18 years in prison that he was innocent of killing hotel executive Ray Liuzza, 34, during a robbery in December 1984.
In 1999, weeks before Thompson was to die, a defense investigator found a crime lab report that cleared him of the robbery charge. The blood type of the robber, found on the victimís pants, did not match Thompsonís.
A judge resentenced Thompson to live in prison without parole, but the murder conviction stood until a state appeals court overturned it and ordered a new trial. Thompson was found not guilty in the retrial.
Jurors in the civil trial ordered the Orleans Parish and several current and former prosecutors to pay Thompson, said Gordon Cooney. Along with fellow attorney Michael Banks, Cooney worked 14 years to have Thompson retried and acquitted.
He get $1,400 his lawyers get the rest. Do you know how many billable hours there are in 14 years?
We are the thin blue line
and all the money in the world.
And no you can't have any.
02-10-07, 07:40 PM #2
Damn, it's one thing to have DNA clear an old case. But they never checked the blood type?
The guy deserves the money (the lawyers don't)."I'm not a coward,
I've just never been tested
I'd like to think that if I was,
I would pass"
~Mighty Mighty Bosstones~
02-10-07, 08:00 PM #3
02-10-07, 10:25 PM #4Banned
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Not familiar with the speed of executions in Louisiana, but it sounds like he would have been out of jail seven years ago even without those lawyers. In a county hearse.
I used to be all for the death penalty, and even used to be irritated by years of appeals. Usually nothing comes of all the delay, and most are just playing the system for more time.
Some aren't though, even when the evidence seems to be slam dunk. Think 'Joyce Gilchrist'.
Jackalope - I'm thinking about your question...
a defense investigator found a crime lab report that cleared him of the robbery charge.
02-11-07, 02:42 AM #5Banned
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Watched a movie (Man of the Year...B-) and now I'm back to look at this closer.
No saints in this story. Turns out the former DA had that report at the first trial. Also turns out, not unexpectedly, that while Mr Thompson may be innocent of this particular crime he's no innocent. Drug peddling, attempted armed robbery...
Meanwhile the current DA's office has to figure out how to funnel those $14 taxpayer dollars to Thompson while keeping their office open.
That all assumes this reporter got it right.
Freed inmate awarded $14 million
Lab report hidden in '85 murder trial
Saturday, February 10, 2007
By Susan Finch
A federal court jury on Friday ordered the Orleans Parish district attorney's office to pay $14 million to a former death row inmate who claimed he was wrongly convicted for the 1984 murder of local hotel executive Ray Liuzza.
The verdict capped a five-day trial in 44-year-old John Thompson's lawsuit claiming his rights were violated because a prosecutor on then-District Attorney Harry Connick's staff hid information that could have helped exonerate him.
District Attorney Eddie Jordan, whose office will have to deal with the $14 million bill, said he will appeal because the financial burden it imposes "will seriously affect our ability to execute our present functions and serve our city."
Taking pains to distance himself from the case, Jordan said, "This unfortunate incident happened on Connick's watch" and "is in no way reflective of the procedures and practices of the district attorney's office today."
The $14 million award was viewed as vindication by supporters of Thompson, who was 22 when he was convicted of Liuzza's murder and swiftly shipped off to Louisiana's death row.
Liuzza, 34, was gunned down by a robber after midnight Dec. 6, 1984, in the 1700 block of Josephine Street, just around the corner from his apartment building. He was shot five times, including three times in the back.
A neighbor heard Liuzza plead for his life, offering his watch and wallet to the attacker. "Why did he have to shoot me?" Liuzza asked the police officer who found him lying near the sidewalk.
Thompson, acquitted of Liuzza's murder by a second jury in 2003, chose not to testify in his own defense at his original 1985 trial because taking the stand would have allowed prosecutors to bring up his conviction for attempted armed robbery in an unrelated case.
At his second trial at Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, Thompson was able for the first time to personally profess his innocence to a jury.
During cross-examination, Thompson was repeatedly asked by prosecutor Val Solino why he had no alibi for the night of the crime. "I was probably club-hopping," Thompson said, recalling his days as a street-corner drug dealer who plied customers with "clickums," marijuana laced with PCP. In the retrial, the state focused on its original theory that Thompson was guilty because he had at one time possessed the handgun that killed Liuzza and the gold ring that Liuzza's killer took from him.
Thompson explained he got the ring and the gun through his drug dealing, and he said it was common in those days to trade in "hot" merchandise. Thompson's defense learned in 1999 that a former Connick assistant had confessed as he was dying of cancer that he had suppressed a crime lab blood report that cleared Thompson of the robbery. The stunning revelation came weeks before Thompson was scheduled to die by lethal injection at the Angola state penitentiary.
Two years later, in a decision that paved the way for Thompson to get a second trial, a state appeals court overturned his 1985 murder conviction on grounds that concealment of evidence denied him of his right to testify.
In its verdict, reached after about four hours of deliberating, the federal court jury of six women and one man concluded Connick did not have an official policy to withhold exculpatory evidence.
But the jurors agreed that a violation of Thompson's rights in the robbery case and the murder trial were substantially caused by Connick's "failure, through deliberate indifference, to establish policies and procedures to protect one accused of a crime from these constitutional violations."
The Friday verdict is the latest victory won for Thompson by Philadelphia attorneys Michael Banks and J. Gordon Clooney, who have waged a years-long pro bono fight to clear his name.
Jurors were told that Disney has approached the two attorneys about doing a movie on the Thompson case and that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck would star as the lawyers.
. . . . . . .
Susan Finch can be reached at email@example.com or (504) 826-3340.
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