"La. death row inmate cleared by DNA," is the AP report by Cain Burdeau, via KLFY-TV.
A 38-year-old man wrongly convicted of raping and killing his step-cousin in 1997 was released Friday from Louisiana's death row after DNA tests found him to be innocent.
Pam Laborde, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Corrections, said Damon Thibodeaux was released at about 12:30 p.m. after spending 15 years on death row.
Thibodeaux was sentenced to death by lethal injection for raping, beating and strangling his step-cousin, Crystal Champagne.
Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, said Jefferson Parish prosecutors and Thibodeaux's defense lawyers worked together to analyze the evidence against Thibodeaux and concluded that Thibodeaux made a false confession.
"Angola death row inmate who gave false confession released after 15 years," is Paul Purpura's New Orleans Times-Picayune report.
A Marrero man who spent 15 years on Louisiana's death row for his wrongful conviction of raping and strangling to death 14-year-old Crystal Champagne under the Huey P. Long Bridge in 1996 walked out of the Angola prison a free man Friday. Damon Thibodeaux, 38, was cleared, attorneys announced, confirming what he has said since his arrest on July 20, 1996: He caved after nine hours of interrogation by Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office detectives and confessed to a crime he did not commit.
Thibodeaux, then a 21-year-old offshore deckhand, immediately recanted after he was fed and rested, but it was too late, his attorneys have said. He was convicted of first-degree murder by a Jefferson Parish jury and sentenced to die solely on the confession he gave then-Maj. Walter Gorman and then-Sgt. Dennis Thornton, who are now high-ranking officers in the Sheriff's Office, according to court records.
Thibodeaux's release was kept under wraps until a state judge in Jefferson Parish unsealed court records detailing the case Friday, an action timed with his being processed out of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.
A press conference is planned in New Orleans this afternoon to announce and detail the exoneration.
In a joint statement, Thibodeaux's attorneys and District Attorney Paul Connick said an investigation had begun in 2007, after the defense team approached prosecutors with evidence they said showed the man was innocent. DNA testing was done, and witnesses were interviewed. Connick also consulted with Michael Welner, a nationally recognized forensic psychiatrist who concluded the confession was false.
Welner described Thibodeaux as being "of modest vulnerabilities who confessed falsely under an unremarkable police interrogation. The case illustrates how a suspect's acute guilty feelings and expression and clearly false statements in questioning can snowball with interrogators who would logically interpret these as signs of criminal responsibility."
Connick said in the statement that it is his "duty to make every effort to ensure that convictions are based on reliable evidence."
"I have concluded that the primary evidence in this case, the confession, is unreliable," Connick said. "Without the confession the conviction can't stand, and therefore in the interest of justice, it must be vacated.
You can read more about Damon Thibodeaux's case at the Innocence Project.
The Death Penalty Information Center maintains a list of exonerees of men and women who had been sentenced to death. Once added, Damon Thibodeaux should be the 141st to be exonerated.