Supreme Court Rules Exonerated Death Row Inmate Cannot Receive Damages

John Thompson spent 18 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.

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Former death row inmate John Thompson

Fresh from our "You've gotta be kidding" file, David G. Savage of the Los Angeles Times is reporting that a divided Supreme Court tossed out a jury verdict won by a New Orleans man who spent 14 years on death row and came within weeks of execution because prosecutors had hidden a blood test and other evidence that would have proved his innocence.

The 5-4 decision delivered by Justice Clarence Thomas shielded the New Orleans district attorney's office from being held liable for the mistakes of its prosecutors. The evidence of their misconduct did not prove "deliberate indifference" on the part of then-District Attorney Harry Connick Sr., Thomas said. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined to form the majority.

Dissenting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated, "John Thompson spent 14 years isolated on death row before the truth came to light." He was innocent of the crimes that sent him to prison, and prosecutors had "dishonored" their obligation to present the true facts to the jury, she said.

In 1999, Thompson was within weeks of being executed for carjacking and the unsolved murder of a hotel executive when a private investigator learned that police were seeking a suspect with Type B blood, while Thompson had Type O blood. The newly revealed blood test spared Thompson's life, and a judge ordered a new trial on the murder charge that had sent him to death row. His new defense lawyers found other evidence that had been hidden, including eyewitnesses reports.

Bystanders reported seeing a man who was 6 feet tall with close-cropped hair running away holding a gun. Thompson was 5 feet 8 and had a bushy Afro. Despite the ruling, Thompson's attorneys learned that at least four prosecutors knew about the evidence that could have cleared Thompson.

Let's get this straight: Four prosecutors knew about and hid evidence that could have cleared Thompson to close a case and Thompson isn't able to sue? This man spent 18 years total in prison, 14 of them on death row, and he has no recourse. The prosecutors won't be prosecuted for criminal behavior, and his civil case isn't being upheld because he did not prove a pattern of wrongful behavior by the prosecutor's office?

Four prosecutors prosecuting someone who doesn't fit the description or have the same blood type as the perpetrator and knowingly hiding evidence sounds like a pattern to us. Even if there isn't a pattern, which there is, why can't he sue for time lost from his life for a crime he didn't commit? Does there need to be a pattern established for that? The chips are stacked squarely against brothers and sisters as it relates to the prison industrial complex. All we have to say to that is you're damned if you do, you're damned if you don't, and that is indeed a damned shame.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times.

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