5th Cir. Affirms $14 Million Award to Former Death Row Inmate

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed an award of $14 million to former death row inmate John Thompson for prosecutorial misconduct. The court was evenly divided, which means the lower court's verdict is affirmed.

Judge Edward Prado, who wrote the court's order to uphold the $14 million verdict, said that the appellate court must give deference to the jury's verdict. He added that the Thompson verdict will not subject other cities to "widespread liability" because it is such an extraordinary case.

"The dissent is merely quibbling with the jury's factual findings," wrote Prado. "This oversteps our bounds as an appellate court. The dissent presents nothing more than a skewed version of the facts in favor of the District Attorney's Office...these factual disputes were for the jury to resolve."

Here's what caused the verdict. [More...]

Before Thompson's first trial in 1985, the Orleans Parish district attorney's office, led by Harry Connick Sr., prosecuted Thompson in an unrelated armed-robbery attempt, winning a conviction that caused him to avoid testifying on his own behalf during his murder trial. If he had chosen to testify, prosecutors would have been allowed to tell the jury about his attempted armed robbery conviction.

But it turned out that prosecutors in the robbery trial had hid a lab report showing that someone with a different blood type may have committed the crime.

The misconduct came to light when another DA in Connick's office made a deathbed confession. Thompson was re-tried and acquitted.

Judge Prado rocks. You may remember the Draft Prado movement when many (including TalkLeft) were seeking to have former President Bush nominate him to the Supreme Court. (More here.) He would have been so much better than Alito or Roberts.

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    And props to some dedicated lawyers (5.00 / 3) (#1)
    by Peter G on Mon Aug 10, 2009 at 08:58:34 PM EST
    Thompson's volunteer counsel for 14 years were Michael Banks and J. Gordon Cooney, Jr., of Philadelphia's Morgan Lewis & Bockius, along with the outstanding New Orleans criminal defense lawyer Robert Glass (also a former Philadelphian, and a protege of the legendary Anthony Amsterdam), who won Furman v. Georgia in 1972, saving 600 lives.  Proud to say that Gordon was one of my very best students when (nearly 25 years ago) I was a law professor.

    Cooney and Banks (none / 0) (#2)
    by hgardner on Tue Aug 11, 2009 at 06:30:31 AM EST
    Cooney and Banks also spent two decades fighting for Nicholas Yarris's freedom and his eventual settlement for 23 years on death row.  He too was framed by the DA's office which then left crucial DNA evidence in a paper bag under a desk, among other misdeeds.  

    Sorry, Not So (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by Peter G on Tue Aug 11, 2009 at 10:13:13 AM EST
    Nick Yarris's post-conviction defense team did not involve Cooney and Banks.  Nick's lawyers were myself and the Federal Public Defender Capital Habeas Unit (Mike Wiseman, Stu Lev, and Christina Swarns) for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  Nick is unstinting in both praise and criticism for his various lawyers, where each is due, in his book, "7 Days to Live."  TalkLeft coverage of Nick's case is collected here.