Damico & Stockstill, Attorneys at Law

Wrongly-accused death-row inmate free after 15 years

Maybe it was being distraught over the rape and murder of his 14-year-old cousin or the mental anguish and pressure of a nine-hour police interrogation process. Whatever the reason, over 15 years ago, a deckhand on a river workboat confessed to the crime himself.

However, it seems he was wrong and didn't do it. The truth has surfaced after the man spent the last 15 years in solitary confinement on death row. He was the 300th wrongly convicted person and 18th death-row inmate in the U.S. to be freed after innocence was determined. DNA evidence is at the core of many such exonerations, including his.

His freedom is the result of a five-year reinvestigation due in part to defense attorneys having concluded the murder confession had to be faulty. The majority of facts made in his statement didn't match evidence at the crime scene. The inquiry further resulted in a determination that the sexual assault had never occurred, and the same judge who heard the case initially recently issued a sealed order vacating that conviction.

Since DNA testing began to be used in the late 1980s, reliance on DNA testing findings has grown extensively. It is widely thought that DNA can resolve questions centered on almost any questionable conviction.

While most cases do not involve DNA evidence, sexual assault crimes are the most likely to result in DNA evidence.

Between 1989 and 2007, 214 people were cleared of charges after DNA evidence was examined. Of those cases, about 93 percent of the alleged crimes were sexual assaults.

The inclusion of DNA testing in the past three decades has created a shift from the former way of thinking that in the U.S., courts do not convict the innocent.

Source: Washington Post, "Louisiana death-row inmate Damon Thibodeaux exonerated with DNA evidence," Douglas Blackmon, September 28, 2012

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