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December 21, 2008

$14m to wrongfully convicted man upheld [lawsuit]

WWL-TV reports:
A federal appeals court has upheld a $14 million award to a former Louisiana death row inmate who was exonerated after 18 years in prison.
The man is named John Thompson. The opinion is here, previous news coverage can be found here and here.

This case has a somewhat storied history. Anybody remember In re Riehlmann from their legal ethics course?

Well, Riehlmann was a close friend of Gerry Deegan, one of the prosecutors in Thompson's original murder trial. In April 1994, Deegan found out that he was dying of colon cancer, and had to get something off of his chest: over drinks at a bar, he confided to Riehlmann that he had suppressed exculpatory blood evidence in a criminal case he prosecuted while at the District Attorney's Office. In re Riehlmann, 2004-0680, p. 1 (La. 1/19/2005), 891 So.2d 1239. (Mr. Riehlmann got in trouble for not bringing this to the attention of the appropriate authorities. See Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 8.3.)

The case that Deegan was talking about was this case.
Nearly five years after Mr. Deegan's death, one of the defendants whom he had prosecuted in a 1985 armed robbery case was set to be executed by lethal injection on May 20, 1999. In April 1999, the lawyers for the defendant, John Thompson, discovered a crime lab report which contained the results of tests performed on a piece of pants leg and a tennis shoe that were stained with the perpetrator's blood during a scuffle with the victim of the robbery attempt. The crime lab report concluded that the robber had Type "B" blood. Because Mr. Thompson has Type "O" blood, the crime lab report proved he could not have committed the robbery; nevertheless, neither the crime lab report nor the blood-stained physical evidence had been disclosed to Mr. Thompson's defense counsel prior to or during trial.
In re Riehlmann, 2004-0680, p. 2.

In reversing Thompson's conviction, the Fourth Circuit wrote:
[T]he State had withheld blood identification evidence in an unrelated armed robbery case in which the relator had been convicted of attempted armed robbery just prior to the trial in this case. The evidence conclusively proved that the relator was not the perpetrator of that offense. The State had used the attempted armed robbery conviction as an aggravating circumstance to support the imposition of the death penalty in the present case.
State v. Thompson, 2002-0361, p. 3 (La. App. 4 Cir. 7/17/2002), 825 So.2d 552. The attempted armed robbery conviction also prevented Thompson from testifying in his own defense:
There is no doubt that the unrelated attempted armed robbery conviction was improper. The defendant's decision not to testify at the murder trial was based upon the existence of this prior conviction. . . .

The State does not dispute that the relator would have testified in the absence of the attempted armed robbery conviction.
Id. at p. 7; see also La. C.E. 609.1(A) ("In a criminal case, every witness by testifying subjects himself to examination relative to his criminal convictions").

The Fourth Circuit then reversed Thompson's murder conviction. Thompson was then re-tried by the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office, and was acquitted.


It's a damn shame that this can happen - and I'm glad that Mr. Thompson was able to get some justice.

At the same time, where is the DA's office going to get fourteen million dollars? They had a hell of a time coming up with $3.4m from the Eddie Jordan debacle. Posted by MBC at December 21, 2008 01:43 PM
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