John Thompson was in his early 20s when he was arrested and eventually convicted in the death of Ray Liuzza in 1984 Louisiana. He found himself in prison on the word of “reliable witnesses” and a fabricated documented criminal history. Also sealing his fate was the word of someone else held responsible for Liuzza’s death who managed to get less time–Kevin Freeman.
This never stopped him from fighting his way off of death row.
Time On Death Row
In 1987, John Thompson was sent off to Angola’s death row. During his years there he received six execution dates that never materialized in the 14 years he was there. He would witness 12 men he had become familiar with on death row walk to their executions. As Thompson sat waited for his time to come or for a miracle, his legal team already had the wheels in motion to reveal wrongdoing by the prosecution.
Just days before Thompson’s concrete death sentence, his legal team managed to stop the clock. Apparently, the prosecution didn’t have all their cards on the table during his trial and left out some evidence. The defense’s investigator uncovered microfiche that showed that the blood that belonged to Ray Liuzza’s shooter couldn’t have belonged to Thompson.
As a result of these new findings, John Thompson was removed from death row and the robbery conviction was removed in 1999. Essentially, he was still sitting in prison on no actual charges or crime but was waiting for another trial to take place. In 2003, he finally got another day in court and the jury acquitted him in 35 minutes.
Now free, John Thompson wanted answers as to how and why New Orleans was able to withhold evidence in the first place. He wanted the district to be held responsible since he lost 14 years of his life. He would press charges for being wrongfully convicted and ended up winning the case.
Thompson was to be rewarded $1 million dollars for each year he sat on death row. This was fought for years before the Supreme Court had to be called into the dispute. In a 5-4 decision, the Court overturned the $14 million decision. The minor dissent was led by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, it was noted that the prosecutors withheld evidence for years that was crucial to Thomas’ case.
In the majority dissent, both Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia found that there was no clear pattern of wrongdoing by the prosecution in this parish–meaning nothing that would fix the legal process towards getting death penalty convictions. Scalia said that it was the work of one sloppy prosecutor and that training wouldn’t have prevented this from happening.
A Pattern of Wrong Doing
It is worth noting that in that electric chair model on the prosecutor’s desk, John Thompson was one of the inmates shown. One other death row inmate in the model also had his sentence overturned. As a matter of fact, in his 30 years as district attorney 39 death row inmates came forward with wrongdoing in their cases.
This included poor handling of witnesses, withholding witnesses and evidence, etc. Over the years 19 had their sentences overturned. This–along with controversy in general–is something familiar with his both his successor and predecessor. In short–this is all a pattern in regards to Thompson’s case.
As for John Thompson, he said he never cared about the money. What he did want was for the prosecutor’s office to be held responsible. He would spend the remainder of his life engaging in social activism in regards to reform of the legal system. Thompson also helped former prisoners get their lives back on track. In early October 2017, he would pass away as a result of a heart attack. He was 55 years old.