There are other people in America like Damon Thibodeaux who were sentenced to death for a crime they did not commit — but few got the lucky escape he did when evidence came together proving he was not the perpetrator. I hope the least that his story does is help everyone think more deeply about the issue and about a justice system that is not always reliable.
Oh and a bonus, the legend that is Jeremy Irons narrates this video.
Narrator: On the evening of July the 20th, 1996 the body of a 14 year old girl was found five miles from her home on the banks of the Mississippi river. She was partly naked and she had a red extension lead round her neck. Damon Thibodeaux, the victim's cousin, who'd been staying with her family in New Orleans, was taking in for questioning. He was not arrested, but was subjected to an overnight interrogation, during which he was denied sleep. After over eight hours of questioning and despite being innocent, Damon confessed to raping and murdering his cousin.
This confession was factually inconsistent with the actual crime in many ways. He described different electrical cord, said the injuries to her head and face were caused by his hands, not a heavy object, and forensic examiners could find no trace of any sexual assault or rape. Despite this, he was quickly arrested, convicted and sentenced to death in the notorious Angola prison in Louisiana. After 15 years of work by his lawyers, a DNA test on some blood left behind by the murder proved that Damon was innocent. He was exonerated on the 28th of September, 2012. He now lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Damon Thibodeaux: Krystal's mother noticed that she had gone missing and she had started to worry. We searched neighborhoods, the park where she played softball at, her friends and there was a coast guard helicopter there as well as the police. Family, friends. I was looking for her for 36 hours. I had just laid down to go to sleep when the detectives knocked on my door saying that they wanted to ask me some questions about Krystal. At first I thought it was just a routine thing. Her body was found as I was being questioned.
They put you in a room and, you know, you're in a chair with a desk. They're allowed to um, manipulate you, threaten you, pretty much do whatever it takes to secure a confession from you. No one walks into an interrogation room wanting to confess for something they didn't do. I was told I failed a polygraph, my witnesses weren't vouching for me. They explained in detail how someone was executed. After having no sleep for 36 hours and getting drug in for a nine hour interrogation like that, I was not willing to go any longer. You know, I was like "well, they're never going to let me outta here until I give 'em what they want," so I gave them what they wanted. I'm sitting in the cell and I'm hoping that, you know, after the investigation was going show that I didn't do it.
But, you know, they were trying to close the case and they got tunnel vision and I was just in the crosshairs. They walked into the courtroom and made it sound like I just walked into this interrogation room and spilled my guts. The jury heard the confession and that was it. So now I have all this time. If I had been strong enough and survived the interrogation without giving this false confession I wouldn't be here. Thoughts like that were running through my head everyday, for 15 years, everyday that's what I would think about. I was seriously contemplating dropping my appeals and walking to the table because I thought "well, they're gonna kill me anyways, so just do it now and get it done." But my lawyer walked in there and she said, "Look you didn't do it, I know you didn't do it, gimmie a chance." They said, "Well we've pulled some evidence locker room and we're having this tested for DNA and showing that you didn't do it."
I've been out for seven months, almost eight months, you know, and it's not easy trying to put your life back together after going through something like this and to just get out and uh, get thrown back into the pond, so to speak, you know. It's daunting at times. I used to be one of those people who believed that someone would never confess to something they didn't do and society as a whole believes that. But yet here I am, here I sit. You know, there's a false confession out there that I gave for a murder that someone else committed. Until you go through it, you just wont know, you know, how much of an interrogation can you take? You know everyone has a point and when you break you'll tell 'em whatever they want to hear. And I will, I'd a told them anything they wanted me to tell them.