Damon Thibodeaux spent 15 years in solitary confinement, 23 hours a day, on death row at Louisiana’s Angola prison farm for the 1996 murder and rape of 14-year-old cousin, Crystal Champagne.
Damon admitted to the crime because of 36 hours with no sleep and a brutal nine-hour interrogation by police, telling them what they wanted to hear because of their threats to kill Damon by lethal injection if he didn’t confess, although he immediately recanted. But he was convicted and sent to death row anyway, despite no physical evidence linking him to the crime and blatant contradictions between his “confession” and the facts of the crime scene.
In an unusual joint investigation between the District Attorney Paul Connick of Jefferson Parish and defense attorneys, it was discovered that the victim had in fact not been raped, and the only DNA evidence left at the crime scene was not tied to Damon. Connick then vacated his conviction, and Damon was a free man. He was the 300th person to be exonerated from prison because of DNA, and the 18th from death row.
Upon his release, Damon moved to Minneapolis to start a new life, and speaks about his case whenever he gets the chance. He says, “Right now, I’m adjusting to not being behind bars, and not being told where to go, what time to go. Getting used to not having chains on. That’s a novelty for me.”