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$14 Million Verdict Against Louisiana DA’s Office for Wrongful Death Sentence

$14 Million Verdict Against Louisiana DA's Office for Wrongful Death Sentence

The New Orleans Parish, Louisiana, District Attorney's Office should pay $14 million to a man who was wrongly convicted of murder and sent to the state's death row 22 years ago, a federal court jury concluded on February 9, 2007.

John Thompson was convicted in the 1984 murder of Ray Liuzza, a local hotel executive. Liuzza was robbed just around the corner from his apartment building and shot five times. Thompson, a low level drug dealer who at one time possessed a gold ring taken from Liuzza during the robbery and the gun used to kill him, was charged with Liuzza's murder. He was quickly convicted and sent to death row.

In 1999, weeks before Thompson was scheduled to die by lethal injection, his defense team made a stunning discovery. As he lay dying of cancer, a former assistant to then-District Attorney Harry Connick confessed that he'd intentionally suppressed a crime lab report clearing Thompson of the robbery. Two years later an appeals court overturned the 1985 murder conviction and granted Thompson a new trial.

Thompson, now 44, had not testified during the original trial because it would have allowed prosecutors to bring up his previous conviction for attempted robbery in an unrelated case. At his retrial Thompson testified that he'd been a street level drug dealer when Luizza was killed and that he'd dealt in hot merchandise, explaining how he'd come to possess the gun and ring.

In the civil lawsuit, after deliberating about four hours, the federal jury of six women and one man concluded that Thompson's rights had been violated and that the violation had been substantially caused by Connick's "failure, through deliberate indifference, to establish policies and procedures to protect one accused of a crime from these constitutional violations."

Eddie Jordan, the Parish's current district attorney, said he will appeal the $14 million verdict because such a financial burden will "seriously affect our ability to execute our present functions and serve our city."

Disney has already approached Thompson's Philadelphia lawyers, Michael Banks and J. Gordon Clooney, about a movie deal, jurors were told. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck would star as the attorneys. Thompson's win is the latest victory for Banks and Clooney, who represented him pro bono in the years-long battle to clear his name.

On June 16, 2007, the district court awarded Banks and Clooney $1,031,841.79 in attorney fees, $90,916.61 in expert fees and $43,419.05 in costs. See: Thompson v. Connick, USDC ED LA, Case No. 2:03-cv-02045-CJB-ALC. The complaint, judgment and fee order are available on the PLN website.

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Related legal case

Thompson v. Connick