Damon Thibodeaux (1974-2021)
DNA used in exoneration? Yes
Reasons for wrongful conviction:
Mistaken witness identification
The Witness to Innocence community is saddened to share that our brother Damon Thibodeaux has passed away. Many of us had spoken with him in recent weeks, so this has come as a terrible shock and a sudden loss for all of us who knew and loved him. Damon was a wonderful individual. Through many conversations and fellowship, he was beloved by everyone. He will be missed. Like all of us, he is in God's hands. Godspeed, Damon. We will miss you.
Excerpt from Times-Picayune Obituary
On Aug. 31, 2021, the world lost the infectious smile and joy of Damon Thibodeaux. Damon was the 142nd person exonerated from death row in the United States after new DNA evidence confirmed his innocence. He was exonerated and released in 2012 from death row at the Angola prison in Louisiana following more than 16 years of wrongful incarceration. He died in Jacksonville, Florida from COVID-19 at the age of 47, less than 10 years after his release…
…[Damon] embraced his new life free from bars, chains, and constant surveillance. He earned his GED and became a long-haul trucker. He traveled the nation and even the world talking about his experience and the danger of wrongful convictions and the death penalty to civic groups and leaders, courts, and legislators. Damon’s story was featured in the 2017 documentary, “The Penalty,” and has been covered in a wide range of media stories and outlets.
Even as he built a new life for himself after his stolen years, the horrors of his incarceration haunted him. He suffered nightmares that returned him to the harrowing experience of his solitary confinement in a small single cell and the crushing despair, loneliness, and hopelessness. The looming fear of execution came back to him. During his time on death row, two men from Louisiana’s death row were executed and he had to listen as men he knew were walked to their death.
Damon was a spiritual person whose belief in God helped him survive his ordeal. He faced significant challenges trying to rebuild relationships after so many years of forced isolation and incarceration. Damon met these challenges with a deep well of positivity. Despite what had happened to him, Damon continued to look forward, re-forging relationships with his family, and gathering about him many friends, who considered him family.
Damon missed over a decade of earnings, and he died without receiving any compensation for his wrongful conviction. A claim for compensation was pending at the time of his death. Damon was a remarkable man, who will be missed by many. He was loved dearly by his family, his friends, and his attorneys. He is survived by his mother, Cynthia Thibodeaux, his two sisters, Vickie Chauvin and Alice Hensen, his brother, David Thibodeaux, his son, Joshua Thibodeaux, and his grandchildren.
Damon's Wrongful Conviction
Damon Thibodeaux spent 15 years in solitary confinement, 23 hours a day, on death row at Louisiana’s Angola prison farm, for a crime he did not commit. Mistaken witness identification, false confession, and police misconduct were all reasons why he was wrongfully convicted in the 1996 murder and rape of 14-year-old cousin, Crystal Champagne.
Damon admitted to the crime because of 36 hours with no sleep and a brutal nine-hour interrogation by police, telling them what they wanted to hear because of their threats to kill Damon by lethal injection if he didn’t confess, although he immediately recanted. But he was convicted and sent to death row anyway, despite no physical evidence linking him to the crime and blatant contradictions between his “confession” and the facts of the crime scene.
In an unusual joint investigation between the District Attorney Paul Connick of Jefferson Parish and defense attorneys, it was discovered that the victim had in fact not been raped, and the only DNA evidence left at the crime scene was not tied to Damon. Connick then vacated his conviction, and Damon was a free man. He was the 300th person to be exonerated from prison because of DNA, and the 18th from death row.
Upon his release, Damon moved to Minneapolis to start a new life, but he initially found it hard to adjust to society. “Right now, I’m adjusting to not being behind bars, and not being told where to go, what time to go. Getting used to not having chains on. That’s a novelty for me.”
He earned his high school equivalency diploma and became a long-haul trucker. As an active member of Witness to Innocence, Damon spoke about his case and wrongful convictions, sharing his story with religious groups, business leaders, lawyers, judges and even the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Deprived: Innocent on Death Row
"The book is based on interviews with 10 Americans who have all been affected by wrongful convictions and the death penalty."
Includes interviews from Kwame Ajamu, Derrick Jamison, Damon Thibodeaux, and Herman Lindsey.
In The Media:
10.1.12 Damon Thibodeaux's death row stint shows what happens when innocents confess
2.26.14 Exonerated Angola death row inmate tells Senate about 'horrors' of solitary confinement
2.28.14 ‘I Spent 15 Years In Solitary Confinement For A Crime I Didn’t Commit’
3.27.14 CBS' '48 Hours' to focus on Damon Thibodeaux exoneration
3.31.14 ‘Torture’ of solitary confinement draws pressure for reform in U.S.
7.18.14 For compensation, former Death Row inmate Damon Thibodeaux must prove innocence, state reiterates
12.6.14 Last Chance
8.2.15 Life After Death Row: The resurrection of Damon Thibodeaux
8.5.15 Coerced confessions and jailhouse snitches: why the death penalty is so flawed
11.15.15 Top reasons people are falsely imprisoned
2.8.16 Sleep deprivation linked to false confession in milestone study
5.28.16 Proof of innocence a hard road for many freed Louisiana inmates seeking state compensation
5.2.17 Ten Questions You Always Wanted to Ask Someone Wrongfully Put on Death Row
10.25.17 Louisiana tests relaxed restrictions on death row inmates
3.7.18 Documentary features Louisiana death row exoneree
3.12.18 The Penalty for the wrongfully accused
2.11.19 The quest to do away with Louisiana’s death penalty
12.16.19 El infierno de los inocentes encarcelados en Estados Unidos
5.27.20 Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom - Damon Thibodeaux
9.13.20 A Man Who Spent 15 Years On Death Row Before He Was Exonerated Died Of COVID-19
9.14.20 Damon Thibodeaux Featured in USA Today
9.14 .20 He lost one-third of his life to a wrongful conviction. Then he died of covid-19.
9.17.20 Man exonerated of murder dies of COVID-19 complications