John Thompson (1962-2017)
DNA used in exoneration? No
Reasons for wrongful conviction:
Mistaken witness identification
Perjury or false accusation
John Thompson spent 18 years in prison for a robbery and murder he did not commit, 14 of them on death row in solitary confinement in the infamous Angola prison in Louisiana. He was exonerated after evidence covered up by New Orleans prosecutors surfaced after his seventh and final execution date was issued for May 20, 1999.
John was arrested in 1985 in New Orleans for the murder of Ray Liuzza, a hotel executive from a prominent family, convicted, and sent to death row at Angola prison. He was arrested based on the false testimony of Kevin Freeman, who had sold the victim’s ring and the gun used in the murder to John, but implicated him the murder. This, coupled with an accusation that John had been involved in an earlier robbery, got him a death sentence. John then retained on appeal pro bono lawyers Michael Banks and Gordon Cooney, from the Philadelphia blue-chip law firm of Morgan Lewis. By 1999, they had exhausted all appeals. Amazingly, an investigator they had hired looked through the evidence one last time found a report sent to the prosecutors 15 years prior and suppressed by them that refuted that John’s blood type matched that of the earlier robbery, as well as the names of witnesses and police reports that cast severe doubt on the prosecution’s case – 10 pieces in all. Thus, the robbery conviction was thrown out, and a retrial was ordered on the murder case. In 2003, a jury took only 35 minutes to acquit John.
John was subsequently awarded a 14 million dollar settlement for prosecutorial misconduct in his case, which was overturned by a divided US Supreme Court decision, Connick v. Thompson, in 2011. Nevertheless, John devoted his time and attention to helping other wrongfully convicted men by establishing Resurrection After Exoneration, a non-profit dedicated to providing reentry services. He also received a prestigious Soros Fellowship to help launch a project to fight prosecutorial impunity in our justice system. JT’s fierce, unyielding voice for justice was an integral part of Witness to Innocence. He successfully challenged us to include advocacy for our members as a part of our mission, equal and complementary to the goal of abolishing the death penalty. In 2017, JT was elected by his fellow exonerees to serve as their representative on the WTI board of directors.
John died on October 3, 2017. That he was taken from us at far too young an age is almost certainly due to the living conditions at Angola and the physical toll of the stress and trauma of being innocent yet coming so close to execution. But his work was far from complete - JT was actively engaged in fighting for justice on so many fronts. His legacy and spirit live on in the continued work to abolish the death penalty in Louisiana and nationally, including a 2018 bill aimed at prosecutorial accountability introduced in Louisiana known as the "John Thompson Prosecutorial Accountability and Professional Standards Bill Prosecutorial Transparency Bill" which, if passed, would establish an oversight commission that would collect data from each district attorney’s office and make the information available to the public.