A man who spent 15 years on death row before being exonerated in 2012 has died of Covid-19, according to The Innocence Project and an online obituary.
“The world has lost the contagious smile and joy of Damon Thibodeaux,” the obituary published by The Times-Picayune said this month. He died in Jacksonville, Fla. On Aug. 31, “less than 10 years after his release,” the obituary said. He was 47 years old.
In a tweet, The Innocence Project said Thibodeaux was “an incredibly kind and gentle person.”
Thibodeaux was 22 and worked as a deckhand in Louisiana in 1996 when his step-cousin Crystal Champagne was strangled to death, according to The Innocence Project. Her body was discovered with a red extension cord wrapped around her neck and evidence of a possible sexual assault.
Thibodeaux was considered a suspect due to his family relationship with Champagne, but he denied any involvement in his death and accepted a polygraph, which he was told had failed.
He ended up confessing to “consensual and non-consensual sex with the victim, then beating and murdering her” during a nine-hour interrogation, of which less than an hour was recorded, The Innocence Project said. .
“I didn’t know I did it, but I did,” he said in the confession, according to his obituary.
Even though some of the details of Thibodeaux’s confession were inconsistent with the evidence, he was convicted and sentenced to death in Louisiana.
In 2007, the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office began reviewing the case with The Innocence Project. The investigation revealed that the scene’s DNA matched male DNA that was not Thibodeaux’s.
Witnesses who said they saw Thibodeaux at the crime scene told investigators they saw his photo in the newspapers before identifying him and actually believed they spotted him at the scene the day after. the discovery of the body of Champagne, while Thibodeaux was already on guard.
Meanwhile, “the prosecution’s own expert had concluded before the initial trial that Thibodeaux had falsely confessed for fear of the death penalty, but this information was never shared with the defense,” according to The Innocence Project.
Thibodeaux’s conviction and death sentence were finally overturned in 2012, after spending 15 years on death row and 16 years behind bars. He was the 300th person to be exonerated thanks to DNA evidence.
After his release, Thibodeaux moved to Minnesota, graduated from high school, became a long-haul trucker, and began lecturing nationwide on wrongful conviction reform.
His story was featured in the 2017 documentary “The Penalty”.
After his release, Thibodeaux “suffered from nightmares that brought him back to the heartbreaking experience of being isolated in a small cell and overwhelming desperation, loneliness and despair,” according to his obituary, but “Damon was a person. spiritual whose belief in God helped him survive his ordeal. “
“Despite what had happened to him, Damon continued to look to the future, to reconnect with his family and to gather around him many friends, who saw him as family,” he said.
In a 2013 interview with NBC affiliate KARE from Minneapolis, Thibodeaux said, “The best part of my day, no matter how good the rest of my day is, is when I wake up every morning. and that I don’t see these bars. “
“You can’t go through something like this without being angry,” he conceded. “It’s what you do with it that defines you.”
Thibodeaux is survived by his mother, Cynthia Thibodeaux; two sisters, Vickie Chauvin and Alice Hensen; one brother, David Thibodeaux; one son, Josué Thibodeaux; and grandchildren.
Thibodeaux has never been compensated for his wrongful conviction. A claim for compensation was pending at the time of his death.