Monday, August 10, 2009

$14 Million Judgment Against City is Upheld

Posted By on Mon, Aug 10, 2009 at 8:05 PM

Following today’s announcement that by default the Fifth U.S. Court of Appeals has upheld a $14 million judgment for former death-row inmate, John Thompson, against the New Orleans District Attorney’s Office, DA Leon Cannizzaro says his office will now have to consider the next step.

“We have an obligation to pursue it to the next level, which would be the United States Supreme Court,” Cannizzaro says, adding he hasn’t had a chance yet to review today’s ruling.

The Fifth U.S. Court of Appeals is made up of 16 judges, so eight judges were for upholding the decision by the a three-judge panel from the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which in December of last year had upheld a jury decision awarding Thompson $14 million in damages and $1 million in attorney fees because the DA's office failed to properly train, monitor and supervise its attorneys on evidence disclosure. Since the 16 judges were unable to come to a majority decision, the case reverts back to the ruling by the three-judge panel.

On Jan. 17, 1985, Thompson was charged with the murder of hotel executive Ray Liuzza, who was robbed and killed a month earlier. Before that case went to trial, Connick's office convicted Thompson of armed robbery in an unrelated case. Thompson's attorneys in the murder case, knowing that prosecutors would use the armed robbery conviction against him if he testified in his own defense, advised him not to take the stand in the murder trial, which lasted three days. Thompson, who had 4-year-old and 6-year-old sons at the time, was convicted and sentenced to death.

Fourteen years later — just one month before he was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection — investigators working for Thompson discovered the DA's office had withheld blood evidence that would have exonerated him of the armed robbery. It took another four years for Thompson to win a new trial on the murder charge, on grounds he was deprived of his constitutional right to testify in his own defense. Thompson testified in the second trial, and his attorneys presented other DA-withheld evidence — including police and incident reports, witness statements, and eyewitnesses to the crime. This time, a jury deliberated 35 minutes before acquitting Thompson.

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