Chicago Sun-Times
A dialog between Sun-Times opinion writers and our readers

What's fair compensation for 18 years on Death Row?

| 11 Comments | No TrackBacks

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear an appeal by New Orleans prosecutors of a $14 million judgment won by John Thompson, a former Death Row inmate who says they withheld a crime lab report to help convict him of murder. The case is Connick vs. Thompson.

The district attorney's office now admits that its prosecutors withheld the lab report, which showed Thompson's blood type didn't match the sample from an unrelated attempted robbery. Prosecutors had used the attempted robbery to help get a death penalty for Thompson.

As a society, we are remarkably forgiving of ourselves, when it comes to wrongful convictions
We are treated to a steady diet of news stories about people, usually men, who are freed after spending much of their lives in prison for crimes they didn't commit.

What we don't see as frequently are stories about penalties for sending those innocent people to prison.

Follow BackTalk on Twitter@stbacktalk

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL:


I realize how tough it is to put a dollar amount on the value of someone's life--or lack of--during time spent in prison. In my mind, that person should be given a blank check, because just to attempt to imagine what it feels like to spend a single day in prison is something that has me shaking my head.

You know, I see some of the guys released from prison and they're happy and smiling--of course--but I can't help but see the pain and the beat-down in their eyes, and even in their smiles.

Now, I realize that, oftentimes, folks are released due to a technicality, so it's not so much they were innocent, but that they were found guilty via wrong means; these released inmates should receive some compensation, but not in the same ball-field as those convicted of a crime in which evidence was withheld that would have completely exonerated them. For those tortured into confession or found to be innocent (and not "not guilty"--huh?) of the charges should receive, at the very least, something along the lines of what John Thompson received (nearly a million per year; though, even that amount feels not enough for what that person may have had to gone through in prison).

But, that said, I would not want to be those in the legal profession who are trying their best--in most cases--to serve justice. It has to be tough proving guilt, even when guilt is obvious. Because, even then, how obvious is it really if you weren't there?

There is no value that will ultimately be enough to repay someone for being WRONGFULLY CONVICTED. This article does not refer to people released on a technicality. If you've never seen the movie: "The Trials of Darryl Hunt", I would suggest its viewing. It will provide an interesting perspective. In the Hunt case, DNA evidence proved that he was innocent of a rape he had already sat in jail 10 years for. Yet, the state of North Carolina did not release Hunt for another 10 years. 20 years in jail for something that you did not do, and the evidence has been available for the last ten? That movie made me mad, but it also made me consider how easy it would be for me to confess to something that I did not do if it meant getting a lighter sentence than taking a chance in a trial. I'm not a criminal, but I do not have THAT MUCH faith in a justice system that has sent many people to prison for things they did not do.

That being said... there should be a system in place that does pay a person for their time being put in jail for when they were innocent all along and the evidence that was available and surpressed or confessions suspect in their nature. Although prosecutors are trying to do their jobs, we need to look at criminal charges for prosecutors or officers that attempt to surpress evidence to booster their cases also. When a crime is commited we want the people involved to be held accountable. For too long, we just wanted someone to pay for the crime and THAT IS WRONG.

The last piece of this is how do you make up for lost time getting an education, job training, and anything productve that you may have been able to achieve had you not been locked away for something you did not do? The effect of this is not measurable.

Prosecutors had used the attempted robbery to help get a death penalty for Thompson.

What does that mean? Did they suppress evidence to get the conviction, or after having obtained the conviction, did they suppress evidence during the penalty phase "to help get a death penalty".

In this case, I realize you're just quoting from the AP wire, but geez, do a little work. (OK, I googled it since the reporter here is too lazy to do so: evidence wasn't suppressed during the murder trial; prosecutors in a completely separate case had lied, but with a robbery conviction on his record Thompson decided he couldn't testify himself during the murder trial. An appeals court agreed and Thompson was later found not guilty in a second trial.)


Cranky, lets not pretend that this is the first time this has occurred. But the real question may not even relate in this instance at all.
As I see it: "Should people wrongfully convicted through the suppression or manufacturing of evidence be paid for the time they had to serve?".

Counties which keep re-electing prosecutors and sheriffs who have too many wrongful convictions under their belt, should be sued and put out of business! And this would include several counties in Texas and Louisiana.

Cranky..... It's much easier to get a conviction if a person has a record because the one trying the case can say Ted the convicted felon did this. It's often very effective tactic.

Let's say a person has a lottering charge when they get arrested for murder or they are charged with murder and resisting arrest. The majority of prosecutors will go ahead and push through a conviction on the lesser charge to use it at trail even if they never name what the other charge is. It can really prejudice a jury because they are thinking if he a convict already then he will do anything. Perception is everything.

To Cranky: Actually, the DA DID suppress evidence in the murder trial - in full view of the court. They refused to turn over the NOPD "dailies", daily police reports recorded contemporaneously with the investigation. Only after the DA's suppression of blood evidence was discovered (in a case trumped up by prosecutors so they had a violent prior offense to seek the death penalty) did the judge require the Dailies be turned over to his defense lawyers. They discovered numerous new witnesses who did not get interviewed by defense lawyers at his murder trial, and these witnesses eventually secured his release at his murder trial. I've written a book about the story, to be released on May 1. I encourage you to read it, as this is not a story of DNA evidence or a mistake. This was DAs with a single goal - constructing the conviction of a man they knew to be innocent. The trust we put in prosecutors demands equal responsibility and authority, and Harry Connick's DA's Office simply didn't provide that, on a consistent basis.

John was arrested in January 1985. He was 22. His two boys were five and three. He left prison in April 2003, when his sons were 23 and 21. What would you do if someone told you that you couldn't see your boys grow up, date girls, or become the first in your family to graduate from high school? That you couldn't be there to help keep them off the streets, and they would think that you were a cold-blooded murderer? Would you take that deal for $14M?

Parolees get a better deal - they get halfway houses. An exoneree like John gets $10 and the clothes he came in with, in New Orleans. And death row inmates don't even get work/life training, since why train a guy you're gonna kill?

If a government official lies or omits evidence to put someone on deathrow, that government official should replace the accused and him/herself go on deathrow.

the government officials need to speak up and that to truth to stop all this

Leave a comment

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Thomas Frisbie published on March 22, 2010 2:45 PM.

Who ever said February elections were a good idea? was the previous entry in this blog.

Which books tell the secrets of Chicago political campaigns? is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.