A Louisiana man — a 15-year veteran of death row in a state prison — walked out the prison door’s into freedom last week
With nothing else to consider, that in itself is exceptional, given that a sentence culminating in the death penalty is typically a one-way ticket to capital punishment or a life spent behind bars.
Damon Thibodeaux, now 38, was ordered released by a state judge after a district attorney reinvestigated his case and concluded that his conviction on a rape and murder charge could not stand “in the interest of justice.”
What is truly memorable about Thibodeaux’s case is that it is stated to be the 300th instance of a prisoner in the United States having a conviction overturned based on DNA evidence.
That number — 300 — might lead a lot of reasonable people to think for a moment and conclude various things about the criminal justice system. Some persons might immediately think about the cracks in its armor and the need for an accused person facing serious criminal charges to always have recourse to an experienced and impassioned defense attorney. Clearly, there are flaws in the system. Clearly, it is far from infallible.
Moreover, if many hundreds of persons have been freed on DNA evidence, with thousands of others pleading for a review, what about the strong likelihood that many other innocent people are languishing behind bars on a criminal conviction for something they did not do? What about the troubling scepter — proved true with alarming regularity — of police and prosecutorial misconduct aimed toward securing the conviction of people with full knowledge that they are not guilty?
In Thibodeaux’s case, DNA evidence proved that the murdered woman was not raped, with the current district attorney saying that the real killer has never been found. Moreover, Thibodeaux was subjected to a nine-hour unrecorded interrogation that he says resulted in police extracting a false confession from him.
In the criminal justice system, everyone except the guilty party wins when an innocent person is set free.
How many more people like Thibodeaux are currently staring out from behind barred prison doors?
Source: Los Angeles Times, “Louisiana death row inmate 300th prisoner freed by DNA evidence,” Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Sept. 28, 2012
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