John Thompson served 18 years in prison — 14 of them on death row — for a murder and an armed robbery he did not commit. The prosecution’s case was a house of cards: Thompson did not match the eyewitness description originally given of the murderer (although the most crucial witness against him did), and a blood test taken from the scene proved that he did not commit the robbery.
If the blood evidence should have exonerated him before either case went to trial, why did he come so close to being executed?
It happened, quite simply, because prosecutors withheld the critical blood evidence. Since the Supreme Court’s 1963 decision in Brady v. Maryland, suppressing evidence favorable to the defendant has been recognized as a violation of the Constitution (failures to turn over possibly exculpatory evidence are now known as “Brady violations”). Because of a series of lucky breaks, Thompson and his attorneys happened to find out about the illegal suppression of evidence, and after more than two decades of legal wrangling and a disgraceful attempt to retry him that resulted in an acquittal after only 35 minutes of jury deliberation, he was finally free. For obvious reasons, following his vindication, Thompson sued the New Orleans district attorney’s office for violating his civil rights. A jury awarded him $14 million. Of course, no ending to Thompson’s story could be happy, but he at least received substantial compensation for the gross violation of his rights.
(via Poor Mojo)