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In Memoriam: John Thompson

By Innocence Staff

Today, with deep sadness and grief, the Innocence Project staff mourns and remembers its friend John Thompson, who died yesterday in New Orleans. He was 55 years old.

Thompson was a fighter for justice. In 1985, he was wrongfully convicted of two crimes in New Orleans—the first an armed robbery for which he was sentenced to 49 years in prison. The second case was a murder of a hotel executive; Thompson was found guilty and sentenced to death.

For 14 years, Thompson was on death row. Throughout that time, Thompson and his attorneys appealed the case, but each appeal was denied. Finally, in 1999, just 30 days before his execution date, a private investigator discovered scientific evidence of Thompson’s innocence from the robbery case that had been concealed for 15 years by the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office.

The new evidence showed that prior to Thompson’s armed robbery trial, the prosecution ordered blood type testing of bloodstains on the victim’s pant leg and shoe. The blood test results, which excluded Thompson, were never disclosed to the defense and the samples themselves were withdrawn from the evidence locker and destroyed by one of the assistant district attorneys prosecuting the armed robbery case.

Thompson was eventually exonerated of both crimes and filed a civil lawsuit against the district attorney’s office for the violations of his civil rights that resulted in his wrongful conviction and near-execution. The jury decided that Thompson should be awarded $14 million, but a Supreme Court, in Connick v. Thompson in 2011 overturned the jury’s award finding that the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office’s could not be held civilly liable.

“He was always strong and thoughtful and defiant.”- Emily Maw

In the years that followed, both despite and because of the many injustices with which he was confronted, Thompson became a fierce advocate for the wrongfully convicted and others who’d been affected by the criminal justice system. He formed his own non-profit organization, Resurrection After Exoneration, the first exoneree-led re-entry program in the country. He worked with death penalty-abolition group Witness to Innocence and was also an Echoing Green fellow as well as a Soros Justice fellow.

Thompson and Resurrection After Exoneration also partnered with the Innocence Project, Innocence Project New Orleans and the Veritas Initiative at Santa Clara University School of Law on a report on prosecutorial misconduct which you can read here.

Innocence Project New Orleans Director Emily Maw said to the Advocate about Thompson: “He was always strong and thoughtful and defiant. . . . [H]e did what he always did with the dreadful injustices life threw at him over and over again: He decided to use it to fight for accountability and more justice for people who came after him.”

11 Comments

  1. Joseph A Buffey

    R.I.P. John. Thank younger everything you’ve done in tour fight for justice.

  2. Tyler

    He was a thoughtful man.

  3. Rest in Peace….John I’m sure our Lord Jesus will reward you.

  4. Linda Brazier

    A story with sadness and also hope. Linda. London. U.K.

  5. Suki Rose

    I stand with the underdogs, downtrodden &wrongly convicted.As the financial motivation to convict and fill up prisons looms over society, unity is more important than ever. Let us never forget those whose voices are silenced. Truth is immortal. Free Jonathan Marvin.

  6. John Thompson 1962-2017

    How can it be that well-known thieves
    Never pay for a life of crime
    but walk free while victims grieve
    The loss of invaluable time

    John Thompson bound for death
    Fourteen years on death row
    A case so weak it takes your breath
    Wheels of justice turn pretty slow

    Sometimes they don’t even move
    Or they crush who’s in the way
    There should be more than “J’accuse”
    For the state to kill its prey

    Thirty days till execution
    (what a chilling word)
    His lawyers proved that the prosecution
    Destroyed evidence never heard

    Retried and easily acquitted
    With no testimonial lies
    Five D.A.s were complicit
    Conviction-rate the prize

    Fourteen million awarded him
    Recompense for rage
    Louisiana tortured him
    Solitary in a cage

    Fourteen million awarded him
    But not a dime he’d see
    The Supreme Court thwarted him
    Justice Thomas Irony

    The D.A. office attempted murder
    But they could not be sued
    What happened here went no further
    No punishment ensued

    He founded “Resurrection after Exoneration”
    Lest anger turn to cancer
    He fought for judicial reformation
    Hoping to find an answer

    For which there can be no excuse
    But until it happens to us
    When someone stands falsely accused
    We say, “Life isn’t always just”

    But until we see it’s you and me
    Awaiting execution
    We cannot be truly free
    We are the prosecution

    That we are apart is a fiction
    At our peril we ignore
    Prison is our jurisdiction
    Let us open up the door

  7. Larry Bannerman

    Rest In Peace Mr Thompson– true warrior for justice. Hopefully death penalty supporters will read your history and become enlightened.
    Thank you!

  8. nikita

    I am very sorry to hear about this. Concealing evidence is an awful thing for a District Attorney’s Office to do when they are supposed to be upholding the law!

  9. Kevin Kraft

    RIP Sir, I am so sorry for the pain that was bestowed on you by so many that were supposed to protect you. I hope they all pay for their sins!

  10. Cyndi Evans

    I am speechless!! I was in the process of sending a letter of thanks to him today for allowing my family to use his logo on my brother’s memorial headstone and panel. Like Mr. Thompson, my brother and cousin were also wrongfully convicted and were never compensated for their incarceration. They worked with him and others until their early deaths. Forever grateful. Sleep on my brother in peace.

  11. Cyndi Evans

    I am speechless!! I was in the process of sending a letter of thanks to him today for allowing my family to use his logo on my brother’s memorial headstone and panel. Like Mr. Thompson, my brother and cousin were also wrongfully convicted and were never compensated for their incarceration. They worked with him and others until their early deaths. Forever grateful. Sleep on my brother in peace. Many thanks and God bless.

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