Should an ex-death row inmate get $14 million?

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When former death row inmate John Thompson left a Louisiana prison in 2003 he was one of the lucky ones.

He had the support of his family and the lawyers who had worked for more than a decade to prove his innocence in the 1984 shooting death of a hotel executive from a prominent New Orleans family.

Within six months of his release, he was married and holding down a steady job.

By 2005, he had a brand new home, a car and a dog. He and his wife were running their own sandwich shop in a hotel in downtown New Orleans.

“I was almost getting to feel the American dream,” said Thompson, who spent 18 years in prison, 14 of them on Louisiana’s death row.

Then, Hurricane Katrina hit and wiped out his home, his business and the life he’d been struggling to build after nearly two decades locked up.

He looked around and realized he was not alone in his struggle to ease back into society. He also wondered where the resources were for people like him who didn’t know how to use email, find a doctor or apply for a driver’s license and social security card to apply for jobs.

“Men come home and the system has nothing in place to help them put their lives back together,” he said. “They need to be reprogrammed because the survival tactics they learned in prison don’t work in the outside world.”

To help them Thompson started Resurrection After Exoneration, an education and outreach program that helps exonerated and formerly incarcerated inmates rebuild their lives.

Again, he says he was lucky because he knew people who could help him write grant applications and navigate the waters of the non-profit world.

But it takes more than good fortune and connections to make a go of it after spending nearly two decades in prison, said Michael Banks, one of Thompson’s appellate lawyers.

“He’s proven himself to be resilient, resourceful and compassionate in ways that are unimaginable given his situation,” said Banks, who helped Thompson win his freedom.

Banks and his colleague Gordon Cooney helped reverse Thompson’s capital murder conviction based on evidence that the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office concealed blood evidence that would have cast doubt on its case.

District Attorney Harry Connick Sr., father of the entertainer on TV’s “American Idol,” reportedly defended his team at the time. “We follow the rules,” Connick reportedly told The Associated Press. “We have an ongoing and continuing obligation to turn over exculpatory evidence and we do.”

In a retrial, jurors acquitted Thompson of all charges.

“We felt good about the retrial, the evidence suggested we were going to win,” Banks said. “We were worried about what happens next, after he walks out of prison after 18 years.

“There’s not a lot of vocational training on death row; the only thing you’re trained for is to learn to die.”

Thompson’s lawyers tried to convince him to go to a residential counseling program in California. But he insisted on staying in New Orleans to be close to his mother and sons, who were four and sixwhen they saw police take him away in handcuffs in 1985.

The first place Thompson visited when he left prison was his old neighborhood, where he received a hero’s welcome complete with Mardi Gras beads, Banks recalled.

However, over a seafood dinner at Pascal Manale — his first as a free man — he made it clear that he did not want to return to his previous life, Banks said.

“He knew from the minute he got out, ‘I don’t want to go back to this old world because this will eat me alive,’” Banks said. “He was a 10th grade dropout with no money, no ATM card, he’d never used a cellphone or a computer. The temptation of street crime, drugs and poverty seemed overwhelming. But to his credit he had the emotional intelligence and strength to pursue a different path.”

Still, it’s been a bumpy road. Thompson won $14 million in damages after suing the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office for violating his federal civil rights by hiding blood tests that would have proven his innocence. The state appealed and the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned the judgment in a sharply divided 5-4 decision.

That — coupled with Katrina — led Thompson to dedicate his life to fighting for the rights of other exonerees.

State laws vary when it comes compensation, but in Louisianaexonerated inmates are eligible for $25,000 per year for each year of wrongful incarceration with a $250,000 cap.

But former inmates need more than money, Thompson said. They need guidance and mentoring to help them manage it wisely. Besides, they shouldn’t have to wait for compensation to find services essential to their transition and rehabilitation, he said.

We think states and cities should provide housing and job training.
ex-death row inmate John Thompson, Resurrection After Exoneration

“We think states and cities should provide housing and job training. They shouldn’t have to wait for compensation to find those services,” said Thompson.

Resurrection After Exoneration offers a variety of services to former inmates.

The nondescript building in New Orleans’ famous Treme neighborhood provides temporary housing for four people while helping them develop a five-year plan, Thompson said.

The first stage involves a lengthy evaluation to get to know the former inmate and to get them back on the grid with a Social Security card, driver’s license and doctor’s appointments.

The organization also helps reconnect them with family or friends who can provide a support system.

Next, they start job training by learning computer skills and building resumes.

They also go through a long mental health checklist to ensure that the ex-inmate possesses the self-awareness to deal with lingering effects of prison. If needed, counseling referrals are provided.

“If you can’t identify and deal with the trauma you fall into depression, and look to drugs and alcohol to escape reality,” said Thompson. “That’s what keeps these guys from getting over the hump and moving forward.”

The organization also teaches participants how to tell their story so they can participate in community outreach efforts. These are key to build empathy and understanding of the needs of inmates returning to society, Thompson said.

Like it or not, these people are going to be in the community; it’s society’s responsibility to help give them a fighting chance, he said.

Thompson and other members of RAE visit high schools and law schools to tell their stories.

In addition the organization hosts “Know Your Rights” classes for practicing lawyers, students and members of the community.

Thompson also finds time to work with chapters of the Innocence Project, lobbying for federal guidelines related to compensation and looking for extreme cases of wrongful convictions across the country to cast a spotlight on the national scope of the problem.

“We need to make everyone aware of the importance of accountability and oversight when it comes to prosecutions,” he said. “When you send one person away it destroys entire families.”

46 comments

  • Richard Nance

    Personally I don’t believe the States & Cities or to put it plainly the Taxpayers owe these people NOTHING….the Taxpayers didn’t commit whatever crime they’re in Prison for so when they get out of Prison for the Crime they committed, they’re on their own, I don’t believe for one minute that MY Tax Money should go to Anyone that committed a Crime like Murder, Larceny, Child & Wife Abuse, etc, etc they did the crime so they should do the best they can or commit another crime & go back to prison….

      • JT

        Naw, Frank–Nance saw all he needed to see. Black man, incarcerated, done deal. Don’t you know conservatives like Nance do not need facts–they just cloud your righteous indignation/anger/racism.

    • Jameson

      yeah your right, Maybe with some luck you will be their next victim, or maybe your family. People that ar sent to prison are sent for reasons, Rehabilitation, you want crime to decrease, Bu you expect it to do it on it’s own, You don’t know the life and problems some of these people have, therefor you have no right to judge them, You don’t like paying taxes? Move the hell out of our country then. Everyone has the right to live a decent life or atleast have a chance, If you think they should be on their own even if that means committing more crimes to go back to prison, hen I hope you fall victim to the next one

    • Michael

      This man was not guilty and spent 18 years behind bars. He is owed something from the state and the prosecutor should be locked up for hiding evidence.

    • dewey

      The taxpayer was also paying the district attorney, the judge, the bailiff, the court stenographer and the jury…..now, when one of those commits misconduct, willfully or unknowingly, have your tax dollars not been misused?? Should they not be held ACCOUNTABLE?? And i’m real tired of you acting like you’re the only person ever to pay taxes….it was never your money anyway

    • justin

      He didnt commit the crime idiot. He was convicted guilty even thoe he was innocent. Youre just as bad as that DAs office.

    • Gordy

      It is people like you that convict innocent people. I don’t know what you were reading but just in case you over looked it, Mr. Thomson was aquitted of all charges. He never killed anybody. It’s people like you (uneducated) that convict innocent peopkle. Maybe you’ll get luck and get wrongly convicted of a crime you didn’t commit. Give your life away and not get paid for the injustice.n There are some things I’d like to saty but I am prevented from doin so.

  • Erin

    If they were wrongly convicted and served as much time as he did behind bars for something he didn’t do then yes I do think that they should do something.

  • Crystal

    Did you even read the article? The man was acquitted. The $ was the result of a lawsuit against the DA’s office. He sued them for concealing blood evidence that would have proven his innocence. Yes, he deserves the $. After all, they already took 18 years of his life. It’s tough to put a price on that.

  • Fay Thacker

    If you would have read the artical you would have seen,,the district att,,hid evidence that would have cleared this guy,,,,so yes they should have to pay,,18 years was took from him,,18 years of not seeing his kids grow up, his mom has grown old while he was in prison for something the district att knew he didn’t do,,,and a muderer is free has been for 18 years because the district att took the easy way out,,,

  • NobodyAtAll

    For the happy photos that were never taken, the happy memories that were never made, as well as perhaps missing 18 good years of fatherhood, 14M is maybe not enough..

  • Nathan

    They deserve enough to get their life back together plus a little. $14 million is too much. $2 would be more appropriate.

  • Sandra Daniels

    I am sick about this story. It scares me to death, (no, no pun was intended). Of course this innocent man deserves to be paid the fourteen million, and now more. It makes me sick to my stomach that a bunch of “educated” men can manipulate the system to such extremes that an innocent man can, (and have been), executed. Disgusting.

  • M Lambeth

    Although I don’t think its a taxpayers burdon, I do believe the wrong accused should be compensated. I also believe if the police continue to push to solve cases with deception, they should be held accountable. I also believe if you are drug to court and are found innocent, the accused should be refunded all costs and inconviences. Something needs to be done about the sorry judicial system we have.

    • dewey

      why is it not the taxpayers burden….the taxpayer elected the DA, the judge and the clerk of court….they act supposedly in the “best interest of the public”, so when they do wrong, who else is gonna foot the bill.

  • Jackie

    My only problem with this is that they should put the money in a trust fund and give him so much (?) a year. 14 million to a poor man may ruin his life! He well deserves the money, but that much could cause all kinds of problems. No judgement, just saying

  • Mrs Chief

    For those that don’t think that he should get any compensation because taxpayers would ultimately be the ones paying & feel as though they aren’t responsible, think about this, the DA is an elected official elected by the people, it’s up to those voting to know the people they’re electing. This DA was corrupt his office withheld blood evidence, his ADA’s were corrupt, there was a rule book they were supposed to follow, not only didn’t they follow the rules they lied about knowledge of the rules. This isn’t the only man this was done to & this isn’t the only city that dies this. With the lawsuit being overturned DA’s across the country will continue to do this to advance their own political careers. The corruption must be stopped & if this is the way to help get it stopped then it needs to be done. They can do this to anyone & they are.

    • justin

      So by your logic even if said elected official lies and hides evidence of hid corruption (as they all do) then the tax payers are still at fault becsuse they elected him??? It would be one thing if they knew he was corrupt and still elected them. Im just saying thats just horrible thinking.

      • dewey

        it’s the reason you should always pay attention to your local elected officials….I try and use that time before the elections to look into who’s running and see what kind of history they have….but yes, the public still has fault when the individual elected to try criminals comes up dirty…you would think elected court officers would be held to a higher standard, but as you can see, they aren’t

  • FaithC

    Yes I feel this man should get paid. He missed out on so much he is owed.
    I want to know what will happen to the DA for hiding evidence? Also if you hide evidence, you must know there is a chance that this man was innocent…how does somebody live with themselves knowing that they may have put the wrong man away? Seems to me the DA is the criminal here.

    • dewey

      Faith, most DA’s and court officials have what’s known as “qualified immunity”….in essence, the judge, DA, ADA, the cops….can lie like dogs in court or suppress evidence and when the truth comes to light, nothing happens to them…..

  • Tony Lee Joyce

    The tax payers put him there along with the courts that work for the tax payer so therefore they owed the man what the laws of the land stated. Stop arresting innocent people before you prove them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The Judge that put him in prison and the prosecutors should be disbarred for failure to do their jobs as they are expected to by the law and by the tax payers. If you are prejudice or have a background that causes you to look at certain cases in a bad way then you should not be inside the law at all. Pay the people that you do wrong.

  • Nathan Ernest Tidwell

    250000 is still to much he was a street thug so would have been in n out of the system much…so millions he would never make ..they may even have saved his life…so a 250000.00 check is a new start,,,,js

    • dewey

      my next door neighbor made the statement 2 days ago that racism was dead, even went so far as to say that it was because the president was black…….I had to remind him that all those votes were cast for just one black man, not all of us

      • JT

        Man, I sure wish your neighbor was right! Maybe someday–we can’t give up and we have to keep working at it.

  • johnny

    NO MONEY!!!!!!!! He had his day in court and was triad and found guilty…. Thats why the lawyers are there… Glad he was exonerated for this > Being he was not guilty but the State or tax payers owe him NOTHING for being triad and found guilty… SUE YOUR LAWYERS…..

    • dewey

      johnny…..his lawyers were probably court-appointed…..guess who pays them….the taxpayer………a lot of you here need a dang civics course……you have no idea how government works

  • dewey

    “State laws vary when it comes compensation, but in Louisianaexonerated inmates are eligible for $25,000 per year for each year of wrongful incarceration with a $250,000 cap.”

    ……….something is horribly wrong with the system when you have to legislate a cap on what you can be sued for when you’ve wrongfully imprisoned a person

  • Mike Davis

    None of yall dont know whats it like behind them walls!You gotta watch out for other inmates who might try to harm you.The guards aint gonna treat you right,they talk to you any kind of way,and they will beat you,badly!And you talking about boring and nothing to do!Yeah,they say the inmates go out for 1 hour,the guards will shorten it to 30-35 mins!All the abuse,noise,fighting will do something to your mind.I served 1 year in prison and it wasnt fun.

    • justin

      Yeah I did a lot longer. That’s tv prison. Once you learn the ropes its pretty Cadillac. Unless you’re stealing, getting into others business, or putting yourself out there then you’re fine. Also he was on death row. Thats solitary there’s no others inmate interaction so besides being all alone, he had it better then general pop non death row inmates.

    • Jameson

      Dude I did longer than a year 3 different times and It’s not that bad, As long as you mind your own business and wory about your own time, everything will be fine, But I believe that any man or woman wrongfully convicted should be paid millions for serving time for an offense they didn’t commit. The hardest thing about doing time is being away from your family, and when you do that much time, You lose everything including your family, So yeah they definately owe him 14 Million dollars, How do you put a price like that on someones life? and peole want to complain about their tax dollars, well their tax dollars pays the people that made this mistake, Wanna play the blame game? Blame the people that made the mistake and sent an innocent man to prison

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