Killing Time: Resurrecting Death Row’s Exonerated – John Thompson


September 19, 2012 http://www.cbn.com

NEW ORLEANS – When a criminal leaves prison, there are often social programs to help him return to society. But that is not the case for the 140 death row inmates whose convictions have been overturned.

John Thompson is number 108. The Louisiana man spent 14 years on death row for a crime he did not commit.

He is now using lessons he learned first-hand to help others who have been exonerated.

Death Row Tales

In an interview with CBN News, Thompson recounted the nights of executions at Angola, Louisiana State Penitentiary.

“On the night of an execution, you can see all these people gathering outside the prison,” Thompson said. “Lighting candles, some doing the candle lighting. On the other side, people saying, ‘Kill, kill, kill.'”

Thompson’s personal death row tale began in 1984 after the robbery and murder of a New Orleans hotel executive.

Author Ronald Gauthier chronicles the case in his book Killing Time.

“New Orleans was a very high crime city. The murder rate was just sky-rocketing at that time,” Gauthier described the time period of the crime.

“Ray Liuzza was from a wealthy family, hotel executive. So it was a high profile case from the very beginning, so the pressure was on the district attorney’s office to get this case solved and solved quickly,” he explained.

New Orleans police quickly arrested a man who pointed the finger at Thompson. Five months later, the 22-year-old father of two sat in jail. A jury convicted of him of murder and an unrelated car-jacking.

“When the judge sentenced me to death, he tells you about how he is going to kill you,” Thompson said. “How much electric volts are going to run through your body.”

“I wasn’t ready for what was ahead of me,” he said.

Innocence Irrelevant

Thompson spent the first four years of his incarceration at the Orleans Parish Prison. But the true reality of his death sentence didn’t hit him until guards moved him to Angola.

He arrived at his cell to find the clothes of man who had just been executed, still inside.

“That really blew me away,” Thompson recalled. “I started throwing the stuff out in the hallway. They were laughing at me, saying, ‘You better get used to that little brother.'”

However, there was not much laughter during his 14 years of solitary confinement.

John Thompson, while he was on death row, had seven stays of execution,” said Gauthier, recounting some of his research for the book. “That means he had the death warrant brought to his cell. He was prepared for execution seven times.”

“It’s not about whether you did it or not anymore,” Thompson said. “It’s irrelevant. It is totally irrelevant whether you are innocent or not because they are here to kill you. So you have one common goal and that is to try to stay alive by any means necessary.”

That included finding high-powered Pennsylvania attorneys Michael Banks and Gordon Cooney to take his case. By 2003, they had exhausted every appeal.

Thompson recalled the final days before his scheduled execution.

“They were going to execute me May 20. My son was going to graduate May 21,” he said. “So the next day after I was executed, my son was going to graduate from right around the corner.”

Before Thompson could be executed, a death bed confession from an original prosecutor led investigators to uncovered evidence: blood test results, testimonies, and conflicting eyewitness accounts.

“He was actually re-tried and it took the jury less than 35 minutes to acquit him of the murder,” Gauthier said. “So John was freed.”

Helping the Exonerated

Thompson wouldn’t be alone. The cases of seven inmates he met on death row saw their convictions eventually overturned as well.

John was on death row for 10 years when a 16-year-old black boy from New Orleans was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death and placed in a cell directly next door to John Thompson,” Gauthier told CBN News. “And the first thing he said to John was, ‘I didn’t commit this murder.'”

That 16-year-old was Shareef Cousin. His story inspired Thompson to start RAE, Resurrection After Exoneration.

It’s a facility and a program to help exonerees with housing, job training, and medical help. He’s also pulled the community together to support their cause.

“I think we are supposed to have big dreams and big ambitions, but I believe we are supposed to have love and we are supposed to have compassion,” Thompson said. “I think that is what our life is supposed to filled with.”

RAE’s walls are lined with faces of those who’ve experienced that compassion. That includes exoneree number 91, Michael Ray Graham, Jr., who spent 14 years on death row.

Graham shared his story with CBN News in an interview at RAE’s headquarters.

“I believe what my father told me when I was young that the truth will set you free,” Graham said. “But in Louisiana it is a little different. You sweat here.”

A photograph of Derrick Jamison, number 119, is also on the walls. He lost 20 years of his freedom.

Jamison recalled the day he walked out of an Ohio jail.

“The day I came home from death row it felt like, you know how a kid feels that day before Christmas,” he said. “If I could bottle that feeling up and sell it, I’d be a billionaire.”

A Resurrected Life

The justice system dealt Thompson one blow since his 2003 release. A jury had awarded him $14 million in a civil suit against the New Orleans district attorney.

But a divided U.S. Supreme Court reversed that ruling in 2011, saying while prosecutors admittedly failed to carry out justice, the district attorney was not ultimately responsible.

Thompson is still not bitter.

“When I think about what God has allowed me to do so far with my freedom and the help that He has allowed me to provide for others, I can’t complain, you know,” he told CBN News.

He’s now happily married. And together, he and his wife have seven children and 12 grandchildren.

He often jokes the prosecution may rest, but he won’t. That is, until his work is no longer needed.

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One comment

  1. Hello Neighbors, Friends, and Professional Contacts,

    I hope that work is going and pray for the continued success. Can anyone actually enable me to meet Mrs. O’Brien? I mainly would like to connect with Soledad, because she really misses the mark on many aspects of adequate reporting of the African-American experience in America. I spoke to others who feel the same and by emphasizing the problems and not addressing systemic root causes is a true injustice to Black folks.

    Would “Black” folks at CNN avoid addressing true plights if his or her job was at stake? What are the root causes for judicial injustice and inequality in America? The reports are not balanced. How may I meet with her? They say that we should admonish or scrutinize each other in public or the open like on blogs and what not, but folks like Soledad isolate themselves so far from regular folks like us; we have to conduct a public outcry all over the internet against folks just to reach her or him.

    After my most recently unfortunate breakup of my last relationship, I did some refreshing self-reflection. During my studies, not only did I uncover several learning points, but I discovered a lot about relationships in general. Here is a very humorous and facetious novel that I came across. I hope that you share the link with your friends and family. The brothers will simply laugh. Every sister needs to hear this. Every sister should to hear this prior to entering another relationship:
    “The End of Men”
    Click “Launch Track”
    http://www.friendsofeli.com/html/listen.php
    or for a faster connection – click
    http://www.friendsofeli.com/live/
    then click listen

    There are very many public policies and laws that have grave impact on the socio-economic wellbeings of the African-American culture by emotionally and financially incentivizing behavior that breed lack of empathy, dehumanization, and objectification. If any network is interested, I would like to work with a network to produce a show that would address how lack of empathy, dehumanization, and objectification continues to further destroy America. Due to biasness and negligent portrayal of African-Americans by the media, other cultures have safety-nets.

    Lack of Empathy, Dehumanization, & Objectification: How does this forge the African-American Experience?

    Please feel free to forward this e-mail as you liberally see fit.

    Warm Regards,
    Eli

    http://www.friendsofeli.com/live/video_popup.php/Relationships.pdf?id=70&download=1&bipass=1&start_dl=1
    http://www.friendsofeli.com/html/listen.php

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