LOS ANGELES, A 38-year-old Louisiana man on death row became the 300th prisoner to be exonerated by DNA evidence, officials said.
“It feels good. I’m still processing it,” Damon Thibodeaux told the Los Angeles Times.
Thibodeaux was convicted in 1997 and sentenced to death after confessing to the rape and murder of his 14-year-old step-cousin, Crystal Champagne, on July 19, 1996.
Thibodeaux, who said he was coerced into providing a false confession after 9 hours of interrogation, was ordered freed Friday by a Jefferson Parish judge after 16 years of incarceration.
“This is a tragic illustration of why law enforcement must record the entire interrogation of any witness or potential suspect in any investigation involving a serious crime,” said Steve Kaplan, one of Thibodeaux’s attorneys.
In 2007, Thibodeaux’s legal team convinced Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick to take another look at the case. DNA testing indicated Crystal had not been raped and Thibodeaux was not her killer.
Of the 300 prisoners exonerated, 18 had been on death row, attorneys for the Innocence Project said.