The United States Supreme Court, in a 5 to 4 ruling, recently stripped a $14 million award from a wrongfully convicted man who spent 14 years on death row and successfully sued New Orleans prosecutors for prosecutorial misconduct. The decision shielded the district attorney's office from liability for not turning over evidence that showed John Thompson's actual innocence.
Thompson was convicted of armed robbery in 1985, before he stood trial for the murder of Raymond Liuzza, the son of a prominent New Orleans hotel owner. Prosecutors used the armed robbery conviction as a way to coerce Thompson not to take the stand in his own defense, and, after conviction, to secure the death penalty.
However, in 1999, an investigator discovered that a blood test conducted in the armed robbery case showed that Thompson was not the perpetrator. Prosecutors acknowledged that it was withheld from Thompson's attorneys. The armed robbery charge was dismissed and a new trial in the murder case introduced new evidence and resulted in a verdict of not guilty. Thompson then sued the district attorney's office, and a jury awarded him $14 million. In all, he was imprisoned for 18 years, 14 of them in isolation on death row.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the actions of prosecutors under the control of Connick, who left office in 2003, "dishonored" the obligation to turn over evidence favorable to the accused established in Brady v. Maryland nearly 50 years ago.
But the court has protected prosecutors from civil liability when they take cases to court to allow them to go about their work without fear of being sued. The question for the justices was whether a chief prosecutor could be sued for not ensuring that those who worked for him were properly trained and followed the law.
The court's decision marks the apparent end of a decades-long trip through the legal process for Thompson, whose experience has produced a book, a potential movie deal and a dying confession from the prosecutor who withheld the evidence.
Thompson returned to New Orleans, where he runs an organization to help exonerated inmates and travels frequently to speak about wrongful convictions.