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Innocent Man Freed After 15 Years Dies of COVID

Damon Thibodeaux had gotten his first shot of vaccine just days before contracting the virus
By Liz MacGahan,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 13, 2021 3:07 PM CDT
Man Exonerated After 15 Years on Death Row Dies of COVID
File photo of the prison where Damon Thibodeaux spent a third of his life wrongfully convicted of murder.   (AP Photo/Judi Bottoni, File)

(Newser) – A man who spent a third of his life behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit has died of COVID just a few short years after his exoneration. After a nine-hour interrogation in 1996, 22-year-old Damon Thibodeaux confessed to killing his cousin Crystal Champagne and was convicted in spite of the fact that his narrative didn’t match the evidence, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports. He was sentenced to death a year later, and spent 15 years on death row in Louisiana. A new investigation showed that his DNA did not match DNA found on Champagne’s body, and a Minnesota law firm helped get him exonerated in 2012. Champagne’s murder is still being investigated.

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Once freed, Thibodeaux moved to Minnesota, later settling in Texas, and traveled the country as a long-haul trucker. He also gave talks about wrongful conviction reform, per NBC News. He worked with the Innocence Project and was featured in the documentary The Penalty. Thibodeaux had gotten his first dose of the two-shot Moderna vaccine when he fell ill. He was admitted to the ICU in a hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, where he had been delivering freight. At the same time his mother was sick with COVID. She eventually recovered. Thibodeaux seemed to be improving after a few weeks, then worsened. His lungs collapsed, and eventually his heart stopped. After nine years of freedom, he died on Sept. 2. (Read more wrongful conviction stories.)

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