Guy Wrongly Sent to Death Row Loses $14M Award

DA not liable for mistakes of prosecutors, rules Supreme Court

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 30, 2011 8:37 AM CDT

(Newser) – John Thompson spent 14 years on death row after New Orleans prosecutors hid evidence that would have cleared him—but yesterday, a divided Supreme Court tossed out the $14 million in damages Thompson won in a civil suit against the DA. Clarence Thomas read the 5-4 decision, which found that then-DA Harry Connick Sr. should not be held liable for the prosecutors’ mistakes. Ruth Bader Ginsburg voiced her dissent, saying the court was protecting New Orleans and its prosecutors, who committed "flagrant" misconduct, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Thompson’s murder conviction was overturned in 1999—just weeks before his scheduled execution—when a hidden blood test was uncovered by a private investigator. In his retrial, his lawyers also discovered eyewitness reports that didn't match Thompson's description; he was acquitted and subsequently won the $14 million in damages. His lawyers showed that at least four prosecutors knew about the blood test, and that evidence had been hidden in other cases as well. But Justice Thomas said Thompson’s case was a “single incident” and that no pattern of misconduct was proved.

Former death row inmate John Thompson speaks at a news conference in New Orleans, Tuesday, March 29, 2011, after the Supreme Court overturned a $14 million judgement.
Former death row inmate John Thompson speaks at a news conference in New Orleans, Tuesday, March 29, 2011, after the Supreme Court overturned a $14 million judgement.   (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
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