300th Person Exonerated By DNA Evidence in US

Damon Thibodeaux

Damon Thibodeaux, released after 15 years on death row.

After 15 years of solitary confinement on Louisiana’s death row, Damon Thibodeaux became the 300th person exonerated based on DNA evidence. He had been wrongfully convicted of raping and strangling his 14-year-old step-cousin Crystal Champagne, largely based on a coerced confession.

Five years ago, the Innocence Project and the office of Jefferson Parish DA Paul Connick reopened the investigation into his case and last Friday revealed compelling DNA evidence that was used to exonerate him.

At a halfway house called Resurrection After Exoneration, Thibodeaux observed:

It’s a surreal walk. It’s not something you can prepare yourself for because you’ve been in those (death row) conditions so long.”

He is the 141st person exonerated from death row, though only 18 of those have been because of DNA evidence.

Police Officers Walter Gorman and Dennis Thornton interrogated Thibodeaux for 9 hours before he falsely confessed to the crime due to extreme exhaustion. Immediately after resting and eating, he recanted the confession. Errors in his confession, such as the identification of the murder weapon and the crime scene, support his innocence. Since his interrogation, he has consistently maintained his innocence despite being offered a life sentence in exchange for pleading guilty.

In about 25% of DNA exoneration cases, false confessions led to the suspect’s conviction. The phenomenon of false confessions is not only the result of aggressive police interrogation but also police contamination of the confession in which the suspect is fed details of the crime to make it seem plausible. Thibodeaux was just another victim of this corrupt practice.

There was no physical evidence linking Thibodeaux to the crime and a sample of blood found on the murder weapon excluded him as the perpetrator. This sample may aid in the search for the real killer, and this is important because the Champagne family deserves some measure of justice.

Thibodeaux’s exoneration, the 2nd death row exoneration this year, highlights the fundamental flaw in the archaic practice of state executions. There is no room for doubt when imposing an irreversible sentence, but there is no way to eliminate error (intentional or otherwise) from our criminal justice system.  Cases like Thibodeaux’s remind us that Louisiana, and all states, should be denied the power to impose the death penalty.

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28 thoughts on “300th Person Exonerated By DNA Evidence in US

  1. I will be the first person to congratulate Mr. Thibodeaux and command the concerted effort to allow for full and unabridged DNA testing in this case. I cannot condone where available DNA is either withheld or manipulated and it is clear in this case that were it presented – the outcome of trial would have been different. Having said that I disagree that death row inmates should not be in solitary confinement or in seg. There is simply too large of a threat here of conspiracy to commit acts of violence, plan escape or sabotage operations. Arguing against solitary confinement is a lost cause AIUSA…

    • Should I get -.5 maybe because the first part of my remark gives credit where credit is due? Don't penalize me that, only of course if you cannot read. HAHA…

      • Tsk, Tsk, replying to oneself? Bad form old chap, like diddling oneself, donchknow.:-)

        • The message takes precedence over the form of delivery. So pay attention to the message and maybe, just maybe, you'll learn something. LOL…

  2. Hey gang, just was a little confused about something. The headline of this story is "300th Person Exonerated By DNA Evidence in US". The story goes on to state that "[Thibodeaux] is the 141st person exonerated from death row, though only 18 of those have been because of DNA evidence."

    So is he the 300th or . . . ?

    • 141st exonerated from death row.
      18th exonerated from death row by DNA evidence.
      300th exonerated by DNA evidence.

      • Yes this is correct sorry for the confusion. 300 people have been exonerated by DNA evidence (for all crimes). 141 have been exonerated from death row specifically.

    • To clarify, he was the 300th person exonerated by DNA evidence, not from death row. The word exoneration, though largely used in the context of death row, can apply to all sentences. It simply means to absolve someone from blame for their crime, i.e. the state acknowledging that they wrongly convicted the person. Hope that clears it up!

  3. Okay so now he is free! BUt what is he going to be given for all those yrs taken away from him?

  4. Sure, this is all good. However, you will not find a judge willing to find Police Officers Walter Gorman and Dennis Thornton in violation of the law. Do they still have their jobs? Are they retired, fat and happy, drawing a pension? We have to remember that the POLICE are also OFFICERS OF THE COURT. They are all on the same team. What we need are Police Police, to root out bad cops and corrupt judges.

  5. I have take a lie detector test twice. The first time I lied my a** off and the machine said I was truthful. The second time I told the gospel truth and was called a liar. I was in jail for a year on that one. Who is going to give me my year back, 30 years later?

  6. The polygraph, the most common lie-detection instrument, works on the assumption that the body reacts involuntarily to the stress of lying. It measures reactions such as changes in skin conductance, pulse rate, blood pressure, and breathing while the subject is asked a series of questions. It is not fool proof, any little thing can throw the thing off like drinking energy drinks and/or certain medical conditions. Officially they're accurate 85% of the time, unofficially 50%.

  7. No one is taking Stubby seriously. Personal insults are out of style and not funny at all. Two of your comments have already been deleted, have you noticed?

    AIUSA – there is a way to block the IP address of the computer Stubby is using to spew all this garbage on this platform…

  8. Why do my comments have to be approved when you post Stubby's comment calling Richard a Dick? My comments have always been appropriate and free of personal attacks…

  9. The death penalty is important to remain intact but all evidence must be measured for accuracy DNA,etc. If it is taken off the table for punishment of heinous crimes then more evil deeds will be done as who will hurt the evil doer?

    • Well Dorian, it seems that if you are in the wrong place at the right time you, yourself can be convicted for something you did not do. If that something you are accused of comes with a sentence of death, and you are put to death…well, to me, that is murder. So, what are we going to do with a state that commits murder. Also, it seems to me that the death penalty is not a way of discouraging evil deeds…the only thing that it does is get rid of the supposed evil-deed doer. And, I suppose make us feel all that more comfortable that the deed won't be committed again by that same person. But what of the criminals who still roam free? While innocent people sit in solitary confinement? What I think is – death penalty, no – life in prison without parole, yes, when warranted, and the crime is proven – better training for police, yes – compensation for the wrongfully convicted, yes. According to statistics, in Canada the violent crime rate is 1/3 of that of the United States and there is no death penalty in Canada. So you argument that "more evil deeds will be done" unfortunately doesn't stand up against the evidence.

      • No it is not Julia: 1) death penalty was proven not to be a deterrent, so that part of Kat's analysis is true, 2) better training for police and compensation for the wrongfully convicted makes a lot of sense in terms of fiduciary responsibility as well, 3) there perhaps are innocents on death row, many past cases have infomed us to that…

        Kat is wrong about 1) LWOP as the proper solution as it does not reduce the bottom line significantly if you figure in the cost of healthcare, and 2) comapring Canadian stats to hours as this is like the proverbial apples to oranges due to so many factors that contribute to this debate.

        Perhaps it would have been better to read the Kat's message and provide a constructive comment. Can you do that "Julia?"

  10. There is a way to block the IP address of the computer this simpletone "Julia" is using to spew this nonsense. AIUSA – block this IP address and remove the insults posted…

  11. Spoke with the Amnesty International intern Sophie Snowden about this particular subject – this is a fantastic piece of investigative journalism and collaborative work with her mentor Brian, particularly on a pertinent topic that needs to be a greater part of modern conversation. Congratulations, Sophie!

  12. Let me clarify my position:

    I wil stand behind a DNA exoneration anytime. As noted in my first comment re: Mr. Thibodeaux , I support DNA exonerees 100%. I also have spoken out insupport of commuting the death sentence of Williams who was severely sexually abused by the person he killed…

    I will NOT, however, in opposition to AIUSA and its "supporters," have sympathy for cop killers and your assortment of baby/adult murderers who are proven guilty of their crime and no reasonable mitigating factors are present. ***Being on drugs/under the infuence of alcohol/lower IQ without adaptive functioning issues prior to age 18/pulling the race card without credible facts to back it up*** to name a few, are not valid reasons to reduce a death sentence to LWOP.

  13. It is not a good logic to be at the extremes and thus I balance my support based on many factors that need to be considered. "Supporters" apparently are willing to argue anything under the sun, however absurd, untrue and invalid, to spare a murderer. Tunnel vision I call it. Be careful about making causal statements where A leads to directly to B link is nonexistent by research. Continuing to argue such causality absent validity pretty much kills (no pun intended) credibility. LOL.

  14. Thus far no credible rebuttals from Julia and friends. I know that AIUSA most definitely would not want you on their side as you would be scaring any potential "supporters" away. Would it be better to "win" me over to AIUSA with reason rather than insult me to push me away?

    You are not pushing me away however. Have you noticed that I am responding more frequently and with arguments that withstand objective scrutiny. I have to thank you for allowing me to mobilize my resources. Your insults make me stronger and more willing to challenge AIUSA's position on the death penalty in individual cases. They say it is best to challenge BS with sound and valid ligic. LOL…

    In short, your insults have the opposite effect. Have a wonderful day….

  15. Yes, we've noticed, tee hee…and now that you are suitably exposed by your own hand for what you are…