INNOCENCE: Louisiana Death Row Inmate Exonerated Through DNA After 15 Years

On September 28, Damon Thibodeaux was freed from death row in Louisiana after an extensive investigation, including DNA testing and the cooperation of Jefferson Parrish District Attorney Paul Connick. Thibodeaux was sentenced to death for the 1996 rape and murder of his cousin. He at first confessed to the attack after a nine-hour interrogation by detectives. He recanted a few hours later and claimed his confession was coerced.  In releasing Thibodeaux, Connick said, "I have concluded that the primary evidence in this case, the confession, is unreliable. Without the confession the conviction can't stand, and therefore in the interest of justice, it must be vacated." Thibodeaux is the 141st person to be exonerated and freed from death row since 1973, and the 18th person released through DNA evidence. The Innocence Project in New York, which worked on his case for years, counts Thibodeaux as the 300th exoneration achieved through DNA testing in the U.S. (capital and non-capital cases). Barry Scheck, a founder of the Innocence Project, said, “The 300th exoneration is an extraordinary event, and it couldn’t be more fitting that it’s an innocent man on death row who gave a false confession. People have a very hard time with the concept that an innocent person could confess to a crime that they didn’t commit. But it happens a lot. It’s the ultimate risk that an innocent man could be executed.” 

Thibodeaux spent 15 years on death row in Angola. The reinvestigation of the case cost more than $500,000, an expense shared by the defense and prosecution.  Regarding his early statement to the police, Thibodeaux noted, "They look for vulnerable points where they can manipulate you, and if you’re sleep-deprived or panicked, or you’re on something or drunk, it makes it that much easier to accomplish what they want to accomplish.... I was willing to tell them anything they wanted me to tell them if it would get me out of that interrogation room.” 

(D. Blackmon, "Louisiana death-row inmate Damon Thibodeaux exonerated with DNA evidence," Washington Post, September 28, 2012).  See Innocence. Listen to DPIC's podcast on Innocence.  See also the Innocence Project's materials on 300 DNA exonerations: www.innocenceproject.org/300.