tv Death Row Stories CNN December 12, 2014 9:00pm-10:01pm PST
but you know how i feel? nathan rotting where he's rotting is actually worse than the death penalty. i think that he deserves to stay exactly in the hole that he's in and suffer and suffer and think about what he did. let him rot. on this episode of "death row stories," the murder of a wealthy young man in the big easy, seals the fate of a petty drug dealer. >> that's the guy who did it, and there's no question in my mind -- >> and gives two out of town lawyers a crash course in new orleans justice. >> do you really understand what you're up against? >> when evidence of innocence emerges -- >> something was going on that was very unscrupulous and was very deliberate. >> the system will stop at
nothing to get what it wants. >> we had struck out and he was going to die. there's a body in the water. >> he was butchered and murdered. >> many people proclaim their innocence. >> in this case, there are many things that stink. >> this man is remorseless. >> he needs to pay for it with his life. >> the electric chair flashed before my eyes. >> get a conviction at all costs, let the truth fall where it may. >> world famous bourbon street. you can buy a song and dance for a dime. >> on december 5th, 1984, a fun loving 34-year-old bachelor from a prominent new orleans family was out on the town celebrating his promotion as vice president of one of the city's biggest hotels.
>> he was a true new orleanians, the fine cuisine and music. >> late that night as he returned to his garden district apartment, he was approached by someone in the dark. >> he was robbed at gunpoint. he complied with the perpetrators, giving up everything he had, asked them not to shoot him. and they did five times. >> we got the call that there was a shooting on barone street. the things that shocked us was the amount of violence. the blood, the bullet holes in the side of the house. the suspect just kept firing his gun, every bullet in the weapon that he had. >> and he laid there as the ambulance approached and the police officers. he said, why did they have to shoot me. he was then transported to charity hospital where he was pronounced dead. and my father collapsed and had a heart attack.
and coded blue, and i'll never forget that night as long as i live. >> it was all over the news as soon as it happened. the tremendous amount of publicity. >> it's been a great shock to us. >> ray liuzza, sr. was able to recover from his heart attack and went public to find his son's killer. >> time is the great cure all. as time goes on, we will be able to adjust, nothing will replace the loss of our son. >> the liuzzas set up a $15,000 reward for information into the investigation and conviction of their son's killer. they struggled to find any leads. one night a local fence named richard perkins contacted the liuzza family. perkins claimed to have the murder weapon. he said it had been given to him
by a man named john thompson. >> john thompson was a low level drug dealer and fence. he grew up in the projects in new orleans, was raised mostly by his grandmother. his father was a career criminal. >> ritchie perkins confronted mr. thompson after the fact and got mr. thompson to confess that he was the one that killed mr. liuzza. >> perkins said thompson had an accomplice named kevin freeman. police arrested freeman and thompson. >> the story that kevin freeman told police was that he and john thompson had been driving home together and the car had run out of gas. ray liuzza drove past them, parked and began to walk across the street to his apartment. at that point he said i'm going to hit that guy and pulled a gun out of his pocket. >> and then mr. freeman got cold feet, if you will and decided he didn't want any part of it. and as he was running away, freeman said he heard the shots. >> the police charged freeman and thompson with murder.
the local prosecutor wanted the death penalty for thompson, but knew it would be an uphill battle because thompson had never been convicted of a violent crime. that was about to change. >> on december 28, 1984, 19-year-old jay la guard, and her brother and sister went to the superdome for a college basketball tournament. after the game as they were getting in the car, an african-american man jumped into the backseat, pulled out a .357 magnum and said i'm taking your car, i want all your valuables. jay deliberately caused a car accident. the carjacker then leapt forward with the gun and jay turned
around and met him, and they had a fight. jay is pressed with his back against the driver's side door. and manages to kick the carjacking into his face and out the passenger side door. the carjacker, obviously injured drops the gun and gets away. the carjacker drops the gun and gets away. that crime remained unsolved until pictures of thompson appeared in the paper for the murder of ray liuzza. >> when thompson's phot photo appeared, all three lagarde children identified john thompson as their attacker. >> thompson went on trial for the carjacking first. prosecutors knew a conviction would make him more likely to receive the death penalty for the liuzza murder. this is in keeping with harry connick sr.'s reputation, his father of the famous musician, harry connick jr. his nearly three decade tenure,
his office handled upwards of 30,000 cases and followed accusations of hard line tactics. >> harry connick was tough on crime and death penalty cases, i don't think harry would have offered a deal. and connick would say no, you can't have it. he was very aggressive and he wanted to lock them all up forever. >> jim williams took great pride in his numerous death penalty convictions, he even kept a miniature electric chair on his desk. >> jim was regarded as one of the most aggressive prosecutors in the district attorney's office. he described sliding up behind defendants in their courtroom and buzzing in their ears to mimic the buzzing of electricity. the thompson carjacking only lasted two days. the lagarde children testimony was enough to convict him of robbery. he was given the maximum sentence. >> your heart stops beating for
a minute, you know. that was my first conviction, but he gave me the maximum. 49 1/2 years. i realized that i was in some serious trouble then. because now, now we're going to go to the murder trial. >> at the murder trial both kevin freeman and richard perkins testified that thompson killed ray liuzza and since thompson had no alibi, even his defense attorney thought the situation smelled bad. >> i can't make chicken salad out of chicken [ bleep ]. the facts are the facts, the case is the case. with the publicity, the nature of the crime, the black on white, we were one foot in the grave and the other foot on a banana peel when we went in that courtroom. >> if thompson took the stand in his own defense, jim williams would be able to bring up the carjacking conviction. >> i couldn't defend myself, the first question you ask me on the stand, have i been convicted for anything, i had to say yes. for what? i would have to say robbery. and so my lawyers advised me not
to take the stand on my own behalf, although we wanted to. >> the jury convicted thompson of killing ray liuzza within two hours. during sentencing the prosecution was able to use thompson's carjacking conviction to argue for the death penalty. >> the state called the carjacking victim in a little catholic school uniform, she told a chilling story of the person that carjacked them, was holding a gun to the brother's head, and she knew both of them were going to be murdered together and she was never going to see her family. >> that's the guy who did it, and there's no question in my mind. >> and with that, the jury decided that mr. thompson deserved to die. he killed this man and he almost killed these three kids. so they decided to sentence me to death for a crime i didn't do. just take a closer look. it works how you want to work. with a fidelity investment professional...
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support us at redcross.org john thomson was sitting on death row at angola state penitentiary awaiting his execution when he got an unexpected call. >> we found you some attorneys, they're from philadelphia. they're coming down to see you. >> the call was from a nonprofit group devoted to appealing death sentences.
>> i'm on death row. you send me some lawyers saying they're going to represent me. come on, get real. >> gordon and i normally represent big companies in corporate litigation but this is my first criminal case representing an individual. >> there was no we read that caused us to say, this guy didn't do it. i was skeptical of his innocence. but i remember feeling a strong sense from reading john's trial that things that happened were just fundamentally unfair. >> banks and cooney went to meet their new client. >> the first time i met john thompson was at the louisiana state penitentiary at angola. and we had a hard time communicating. >> first thing i asked him was do you really understand what you're up against? >> we had no idea we would spend
a quarter of a century working with john thomson. >> they began preparing an appeal, their key argument was that the prosecution's star witness, richard perkins, had a hidden motive in the case. >> mr. perkins had been promised reward money by the prosecutors and that information never made its way in front of the jury. >> michael and gordon hired lisa who knew new orleans inside and out. as defense investigator on the case. >> if something smells fishy, there's a reason. humans lie, and they do things for their own advancement and their careers and some cash. people are very unscrupulous. >> seeking an award that today would be worth more than $30,000, richard perkins requested a meeting with a representative of the liuzza family. the conversation was recorded by police. >> mr. liuzza asked me to meet
with you. >> i don't mind helping them catch nobody. if it can help me. i help him. >> i know he'll appreciate it. >> everything behind the reward. i ain't saying my mama couldn't use something like that. >> if you can give us this information we'll be straight with you. >> i just need help. we feeling bad because my dad been gone all these years. >> maybe we can help you with yours now. >> people were paid to testify. you give a tip, if it leads to a conviction, you get money. and it's very enticing. >> perkins received over $10,000 in reward money immediately after the trial and told by the police not to mention the payment of the reward to anybody. >> soon they have perkins saying he received $10,000 to do this. >> the jury would have thought
different about that. they wouldn't have even counted his testimony. >> gordon and michael filed their appeal in june of 1989 after five years of waiting, the court finally agreed to hear their case. >> we were able to prove beyond any doubt that in fact a reward was promised and paid, and that the prosecutors failed to disclose it. and yet despite that the judge said there was enough other evidence of john's guilt that the reward issue would not have made a difference. >> michael and gordon appealed the decision to the u.s. district court, the fifth
circuit court of appeals and finally the u.s. supreme court. they all denied the appeal. >> matters became desperate. now we had no more appeals or challenges. on april 19th of 1999, the final death warrant was issued. we had struck out, we had failed and he was going to die. >> the state set an execution date. >> we drove over to angola. john came into the room, we didn't tell him we had been coming, but he knew why we were there. and he looked at us and he said, what's the date? we looked at him and said, john, it's may 20th, which was basically a month off. >> i'd been around death row at that time long enough to understand what was going on. i was like, wow, it's my time. it's my time. i was trying to be strong, i was trying to like understand what's getting ready to happen. i'm getting ready to die for a
crime i didn't commit or anxiety kicked in. i didn't know how to accept the reality they'd be getting ready to kill me. >> and then john did a really remarkable thing. he said, my youngest son john jr. is the first person in my family who's going to graduate from high school on may 21st. will you please go to his graduation and make sure he's okay after i'm gone. and then he spent the next 20 minutes trying to make us feel better. it was not how could you let this happen to me, it's not what are you going to do to save my life. it's about making us feel better about what we had done for him and making sure someone else is going to be okay. that's the kind of guy john thompson is. >> we were mostly silent on the way from angola to new orleans, there was very little to be said. >> on the way, gordon checked his voice mail. >> gordon had a message from elisa. >> they're driving very solemnly like it's over, as they're exiting angola. they had no cell phone coverage for miles and miles and miles.
i'm calling their office in philadelphia just berserk. going nuts. >> there on my voice mail was a message from elisa saying, i found something really important, i think this is big, you have to call me right away. end of message. don't settle for 4g lte coverage that's smaller or less reliable when only one network is america's largest and most reliable 4g lte network: verizon. with xlte, our 4g lte bandwidth has doubled in over 400 cities. and now, save without settling.
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this city is like the perfect storm for lots of crime. there's a lot of poverty, there's a lot of corruption. there's a lot of drunk tourists. there was so much crime in the paper and the news on a regular basis, i actually never paid attention to the murder of ray liuzza jr. until the attorneys contacted me. >> with john thompson scheduled to be executed in less than a
month, defense investigator elisa abolafia desperately searched for answers. >> i was a nervous wreck, john was facing an execution date may 20th. i began with the carjacking case. first, i read the police report. >> in 1985, john thomson was convicted of carjacking three teenagers at gun point. without that conviction, thompson would have been much less likely to get the death sentence for the murder. elisa found reports from the first officer to respond to the carjacking scene. >> i noticed fresh blood, one of the victims shoes had blood on his shoes and pants legs. he was uninjured so was his brother and sister. we assumed it was the perpetrator's blood.
>> police files confirm that the carjacker's blood had been collected from the victim's pants. >> i went to the evidence room and i see that the pants were checked out by one of the d.a.'s and not returned. i'm like, hello? if they were so sure that john thomson was the carjacker, you would have tested his blood and gone tada, waved your crime lab report around the courtroom. that would have been your nail. i knew that something was going on that was very unscrupulous and was deliberate. deliberate. >> the defense was never told that the blood had been tested. so that revealed quite a bit about the prosecutors that had been handling thompson's case. >> my next move is to go to the crime lab. and act -- you can't tip off people who work for the police department you are on to something naughty. i just go in and go, i need to see this old report, please. i then get the crime lab report which tells me that the blood type is blood b.
>> we were incredibly excited because we know now the perpetrator had type b blood. >> but we didn't know what john's blood type was. so what we did first, we called john. >> my blood type, i don't know. he said, you don't know your own blood type? no. you think your mom will know? i said, i don't know, call her and ask. >> i spoke to his mother, please tell me you know his blood type? no, i don't. so i'm wracking my brain. i asked john, did you ever have surgery at any time of your life? if you did, they had to draw your blood and test it. yes, when i was a teenager at charity hospital. thank goodness. again, scramble, scramble, go to my connection there who was the direct over the records' room. i said three weeks from now this man's going to be executed. it's a matter of life and death,
please dig it up for me. and she did. the hospital records showed that thompson had blood type o. >> it was a smoking gun that demonstrated that thompson was innocent of the carjacking beyond question. and there's no question that the prosecution had clear obligation to turn over evidence that's favorable to the defense. >> the carjacking victims had clearly misidentified thompson. >> eyewitness testimony is so unreliable. and the more traumatic the event is that they witnessed, the more likely it is they're going to be wrong in their recollections and their identifications. >> with clear evidence of prosecutorial misconduct, michael and gordon now felt they had no choice but to go after the legendary district attorney of new orleans parrish, harry connick sr. >> he was an iconic figure, he was a big fan of jazz music and had a regular singing gig in new orleans. but he was thought of as being
fairly aggressive as well. it was a stated policy in his office to provide the defense the minimum amount of information required by law and nothing more. we talked about the right way to handle this, and rather than hold a big press conference and point the finger at the district attorney's office, we thought the first right step was to go to mr. connick himself. >> connick's reaction initially was that he wanted some time to think about it. we told him he had a matter of two, maybe three hours. we have an execution date in less than two weeks. and we said, if you can't agree even with these facts, we'll take the next step that we think is appropriate. >> mr. connick realized he had no alternative, the evidence was all too clear. it was physically and scientifically impossible for thompson to have been the carjacker. >> michael gordon and connick met with judge patrick quinlan who had presided over both of thompson's trials. upon learning of the hidden blood evidence, judge quinlan
grew furious with connick. >> he said he was going to hold a hearing in open court, to try to determine exactly how this had happened. he wanted all the citizens of new orleans to see. >> at the hearing, attorneys questioned the key prosecutors involved with thompson's case, including jim williams, the man with the little electric chair on his desk. a colleague testified that williams was given the blood results, but williams denied it. >> williams' story is that he never received it, he never saw it, and so at the end of the day, the choices between dishonesty and incompetence. they can either be the prosecutors who knew that evidence was being withheld in their case or they can be prosecutors who weren't in charge of their cases when a man's life was on the line. >> visibly upset, judge quinlan overturned thompson's carjacking conviction. he also ordered a stay of execution and ordered connick to turn over every file on record to michael and gordon. >> that was the first time we really got a full look into the district attorney's files in the murder case against john thomson. it was a moment that gordon and i looked at each other and said, he's really innocent. he did not kill ray liuzza, he was not there. we knew who the murderer was, we knew how it happened for the very first time. john thomson had been on death row at angola state prison
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john thompson had been on death row at angola state prison for 14 years. by 1999 michael and gordon had proven thompson had not committed the carjacking outside the superdome, they had yet to prove their client was innocent of killing 34-year-old ray liuzza in cold blood. however, material they finally received from the new orleans' d.a.'s office provided ample ground for an appeal. >> the daily police reports showed us that these witnesses, freeman and perkins had told very, very different stories in 1985 before the trial as compared to what they said on the witness stand. we began to see how their stories were contrived to secure a conviction of an innocent man.
>> there were numerous pieces of evidence inconsistent with john's guilt or consistent with freeman's guilt and that showed that freeman had lied at trial in his testimony on behalf of the state. >> after testifying he saw thompson murder ray liuzza, kevin freeman was given a plea deal and only served ten months in prison. >> we also received leads about potential witnesses who would be helpful. there was a woman who lived across the street from mr. liuzza, she got a very good look at the perpetrator. ms. kelly and other witnesses who testified they saw a man with a blue steel revolver, six feet tall with a close cut hair running past them. john thompson was 5'10" with a big afro. kevin freeman was 6'0" went by the nickname kojak because of his close cut hair. once all the evidence was examined it was clear beyond imagination that kevin freeman, acting alone, murdered ray liuzza. >> michael and gordon now believe they had a strong case for a new trial.
>> we had an evidentiary hearing in front of judge quinlan. and quinlan vacated the death sentence but he refused to vacate guilt. >> judge quinlan refused to grant a new trial. >> we were devastated. >> it was wonderful to have john thomson spared from execution, we were still looking at a man in his 30s who was going to be facing the rest of his life in jail. >> so you're going to take the death penalty back and give me a life sentence? i was scared to death even more so now. you tell me i'm never going home again? that didn't give me no relief, none whatsoever. i was doomed. >> michael and gordon appealed the judge's decision, they knew this would be thompson's last chance for a new trial. >> john's going to go free or spend the rest of his life in prison.
>> arguments were basically twofold. first, that carjacking conviction had been used to keep john from being able to testify in his own defense in the murder case. and secondly, we argued that all of the evidence that we had amassed had shown that john thomson was innocent of the liuzza murder. >> michael and gordon filed their appeal in february of 2002. five months later they received the decision. >> i'll never forget it, a reporter called and said, what do you think about this decision? and i asked her to read it to me, and i said, skip to the end, skip to the end. >> the last line read, conviction and sentence reversed. >> i called gordon into my office. i couldn't get the words out. >> i remember it was july 17th, 4:30 in the afternoon, i -- i was tongue tied i said, i couldn't -- he said, new trial? i said yes. we hugged, we were ecstatic. >> as michael and gordon began preparing for the retrial, they
got an unsolicited offer from the d.a.'s office, harry connick senior had retired and the new d.a. ran for office on an anti-corruption campaign. now, he wanted to make a deal. >> the district attorney's office was not eager to go and try this case again, based on the evidence as it then existed. john could plead to some lesser offense and be immediately released from prison. >> i'm like, hell no. i'm not pleading guilty to nothing. after all this stuff we proved, these people are still trying to make me plead guilty to something i didn't do. >> the jury got it wrong twice before, there was some risk that a jury would get it wrong again, no matter how strong the evidence was. much as we were convinced of john's innocence, we had to think about getting him out of jail as our first priority.
>> john, we're not talking to you any more as attorneys, we're getting ready to talk to you as a friend. we cannot control the minds of 12 people, we can only present them the facts. if 12 members come back and say you're guilty, could you handle that? is it fair on your mom, your children? one hand you could walk out the door. on the other hand you might stay there the rest of your life. before you make a quick decision like that, why don't you think about it. so, your site gave me this "credit report card" thing. can i get my experian credit report... like, the one the bank sees. sheesh, i feel like i'm being interrogated over here. she's onto us. dump her. (phone ringing) ...hello? oh, man. that never gets old. no it does not. not all credit report sites are equal. experian.com members get personalized help and an experian credit report. join now at experian.com with enrollment in experian credit tracker sm.
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in april of 2003, john thopmson faced the decision whether to plead guilty and walk away from prison or stand trial and risk the rest of his life behind bars. >> i didn't kill nobody. i'm not pleading guilty to nothing. i got on the phone, my mom said, i want you home. i don't care what those people say, i know you didn't do it, i want you home. i called the attorneys and said, come on, let's do it, it's time for me to be with my family. >> gordon and i went down to new orleans to be there when john got out of jail to have our big celebration. >> i was figuring out where john
was going to go after he was released from prison and a criminal defense lawyer walked into the conference room where i was working and all the color had drained out of his face and he said the district attorney's office had pulled the deal. >> we thought john was walking out of jail the next day. this was five days before the trial was to start. and the d.a. said no deal. we go to trial. >> as it turned out the victim's family had learned of the plea deal and voiced their objections to the district attorney. >> michael and i go to the prison and john again put on a very brave face. he said i didn't want that plea, it was going to hang over my head for the rest of my life. i didn't do this. you guys are going to win this case but we just lost four days of preparation because we thought there was no trial. >> we need some more time to prepare for the case. he said you won't do that. we're going to win this case. i can't spend another day in this place. as we walked down a very long corridor we turn around and look
back and there is john with his head in his hands. we thought he was getting out of jail the next day. and now we found out that he had to stand trial with a risk of spending the rest of his life in prison. >> on the morning of may 7th, 2003, john thompson stood before the same judge in the same courtroom where he had been sentenced to death 18 years earlier. michael and gordon had a problem. they couldn't attack the damaging testimony of kevin freeman, the man they believed murdered ray liuzza. >> freeman was shot dead in 1995 while committing a robbery. >> with freeman dead, his previous testimony stood as evidence that thompson had committed the liuzza murder. >> we had all this evidence that freeman had lied in his original testimony and we wouldn't be able to use that evidence effectively if we couldn't cross examine him live on the stand.
>> michael and gordon proposed an unorthodoxed solution. after freeman's testimony was read into the record they would cross examine the empty witness chair as if freeman was on the stand. >> we took the evidence of the lies and put them in the form of questions. >> you told the jury you didn't know that john thompson was going to rob someone. isn't it true, however, that you set out to rob someone? silence hung in the air after each question was posed, giving the jury time to imagine freeman's response. you suggested in your testimony that you stole nothing from mr. liuzza at all, but you admitted you stole all of his property, didn't you? >> we asked a series of questions like that, culminating in the final one, which was
isn't it true, mr. freeman that you and you alone murdered ray liuzza. the jury knew where we were coming from, they were able to see the lies in kevin freeman's original story. >> informant richard perkins also took the stand. this time his testimony was devastating to the prosecution. >> perkins admitted that one of the prosecutors put him in a room with kevin freeman before they testified at the original criminal murder trial and said, you guys get your story straight. >> perkins also admitted receiving $10,500 after thompson was convicted. >> we were able to show why perkins implicated thompson. perkins was a street kid who needed money desperately. he saw a chance for more money than he had ever seen or imagined in any one place in 1985 and he went for it. >> for the first time in 18 years, john thompson was finally able to take the stand and proclaim his innocence. >> you could hear a pin drop. i mean literally. he finally had a chance to explain to a jury why he had the murder weapon.
>> john thompson's testimony was that he did have the gun, but he had bought that from kevin freeman. >> kevin freeman sold the murder weapon to an unwitting john thompson. john was involved in buying and selling some stolen property. it's not something he's proud of. >> i was a dope dealer. you was a burglar, you was a robber, you wanted dope, you need to bring me some type of collateral. that was a part of a drug trade, being a fence. i'm sorry, that's how i came about being in possession of the murder weapon. >> the defense rested and the case was handed over to the jury. >> the jury gets up and leaves with your fate in their hands you try to smile while they're leaving. all them passing right by you. all of them looking you in your face like for the last time. >> the pressure was enormous, it was almost like you couldn't breathe. there's a lot of nervous energy and small talk that goes on.
before we can sit down and order food, the jury reached a decision. boy, i was so scared i said what? they did -- what? how? that fast? >> the jury took only 35 minutes to agree on a verdict. >> the jury files back in, whenever a jury comes back, you're looking at every juror trying to look for some hint. and it seems like an eternity, >> and the heart meanwhile now is racing faster and faster and breathing is becoming increasingly challenging. >> this was the most agonizing moment either of us have had in our careers. and in our personal careers. and the judge that the verdict be read aloud. r forget. earn triple points when you book with the expedia app. expedia plus rewards. don't settle for 4g lte coverage that's smaller or less reliable when only one network is america's largest and most reliable 4g lte network: verizon.
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quickly find the season's hottest shows, huh. quickly find the season's hottest shows, with a handpicked collection all in one place. only from xfinity. the retrial of john thompson lasted only a day and a half. the jury took 35 minutes to return their verdict. >> when the jury come back, the judge asked them, has the jury reached a decision? the jury said, yes, your honor. and then said, will the defendant rise? >> there's incredible tension and nervous energy. and you just don't know, because juries can do anything. >> each word slows down in time.
it's, we the jury, find the defendant, john thompson, not guilty. i can't describe it. >> i literally felt like i was lifted off my chair. >> i looked around at my mom and my son. the relief i felt of knowing that i'm going home. this is finally behind me. this is finally over with. >> we each gave him a big hug. it was a moment. >> after 18 years in prison, john thomson was finally going home. but aside from his freedom, he was walking away with little else. >> kick in the behind and $10. they didn't have no compensation available for nobody like myself.
no matter how many years you do in prison you have to fend for yourself. >> so we approached the district attorney's office and we said, look, john lost the last 18 years of his life. you all nearly executed him eight times. you need to do the right thing. we were told in no uncertain terms we could jump in the lake. so we filed a lawsuit against the new orleans district attorney's office. >> they proposed a settlement of $500,000 hoping to get half that
amount. >> under the united states constitution, prosecutors are required to give the defendants evidence is that is favorable to the defense, and these prosecutors did not. >> your job is to prosecute the guy and seek a conviction. that's your job. >> ada bruce whittaker received the blood report showing thompson didn't commit the carjacking. in a deposition, michael asked him if the prosecutors were obliged to disclose evidence. >> the understanding was, if you disclosed -- >> exculpatory evidence? >> exculpatory meaning what? >> that's a good question, i don't know if that's -- that's the kind of stuff that was never, perhaps, clarified to the extent it should have been clarified. >> was there training for prosecutors on what that obligation meant? >> i don't recall there ever being training on that. i don't recall there being training, period. >> jim williams who prosecuted thompson was asked who decided what evidence would be shared. >> it was up to the attorney trying the case. we were expected to follow the rules. >> were there any other guidelines that you can recall
as to how you were to make that determination? >> no. >> when we asked the prosecutors about their knowledge of the law that requires that favorable evidence be produced they got it all wrong. the district attorney's office had a handbook, it was flat out wrong. >> their failures of understanding were frankly pretty surprising. >> i stopped reading law books when i was -- when i became the d.a. >> a jury concluded that under harry connick's leadership, the d.a.'s office failed to provide pertinent evidence and violated john thomson's constitutional rights. >> in 2007, the jury awarded john thomson $14 million. >> but the d.a.'s office would appeal the decision for the next four years. meanwhile, john thomson transformed his life, building an organization called resurrection after exoneration to help exonerees adjust to life after prison. he's also become a leading spokesman against prosecutorial misconduct. >> it's extraordinary to see him as a 10th grade high school dropout become a really compelling advocate, the way he has taken this tragedy that happened in his life and turned it into a force for positive change. >> after years of appeals, the d.a.'s office finally argued their case to the u.s. supreme court. >> 2011, the bitterly divided justices voted 5-4 to deny the $14 million award.
>> five justices of the supreme court believed the new orleans district attorney's office could not be liable because there was not a prior pattern of similar misconduct. >> the majority opinion written by justice clarence thomas found that even though connick's office withheld evidence in the thompson case, that was not enough to prove a pattern. and yet a study done in 2008 reported that during harry connick sr.'s tenure in one out of every four cases where the death penalty was imposed, evidence was withheld. >> that was crazy. if that is not a pattern, i don't know what is. so who is going to get the last laugh, jim williams? >> in the photo of jim williams with the electric chair of the five faces visible, all of them were released from death row. >> in my mind, we should charge them with attempted murder, this district attorney using false information that he know is
false to kill you. it's premeditated. so we're saying he can get away with murder? what makes him so special? the only thing he was hiding behind, a district attorney badge. >> unfortunately, the thomas opinion is the law of the land and it gives me great concern. >> make no bones about it, prosecutors are now a lot less accountable for what they do, because they know that if they don't produce evidence there's virtually no sanction for them or the office. >> john thompson's activism continues to sound the alarm against the supreme court decision and innocent people being found guilty and executed for crimes they did not commit. >> now i'm thinking about my children, the same thing could happen to them. a person could have that much power over your life, and without being held accountable for it. i can throw the evidence away, and still try to kill you. whether you did it or not, without no consequences. that's scary. that should be scary to
everybody in the whole world. on this episode of "death row stories" -- a terrifying crime. >> the victim was so innocent. >> a condemned man fights for his life. >> no matter how much i begged, no one listens to a convicted murderer. >> until a passionate priest helps dig for the truth. >> my heart just dropped into the pit of my stomach, and i'm thinking, what else is here?
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