Another Corrupt District Attorney Makes Citizens Pay

January 17, 2009

Harry Connick, then the New Orleans District Attorney, wrongfully convicted a man named John Thompson in 1983. Thompson spent 18 years on death row but eventually was proved to have been wrongfully convicted. Then Thompson sought compensation in federal court for this injustice. The jury awarded Thompson $15 million, but the District Attorney’s Office is now making noises about taking bankruptcy because it cannot pay the judgment.

Harry F. Connick , now deceased, was no stranger to controversy. The father of the well known jazz singer, Harry Connick, Jr. Harry F. Connick had been put on trial in 1990 himself. The then-District Attorney since 1974, was tried in federal court for racketeering by aiding an illegal gambling operation. Connick was accused of returning to the big time gambler, Walton Aucoin, gambling records that had been seized in a 1988 raid. The trial was originally prosecuted by the local U.S. Attorney, who had worked for Connick, John Voltz, who then recused after accusations of his personal bias against Connick. Besides Aucoin, six other defendants included gamblers Wilson Abraham, a New Orleans businessman and customer of Aucoin, who lent Connick $15, 000 in a political campaign and actor Paul Burke, Palms Springs, California. Connick was acquitted, although all the other defendants were convicted.

Nor is the New Orleans District Attorney’s Office a stranger to controversy. In October, 2007, Eddie Jordan, the then-District Attorney resigned from office, pressed by a $3.7 million dollar race discrimination civil rights verdict against his office that threatened to shut down the office. Jordan had already faced criticism for dismissal of high-profile murder cases, mass resignations in the office, and failure to prosecute crimes n a city with the nation’s highest murder rate, especially the chaos following Hurricane Katrina. The race discrimination judgment came from the 2005 federal court case in which the jury found he had, as accused, discriminated against the 43 white employees whom he fired because of their race. Only after Eddie Jordan had resigned from office did state and city officials help pay the $3.7 million judgment. Ultimately, the State of Louisiana agreed to pay $1.6 million, the city of New Orleans agreed to pay $1.1 million, and the District Attorney’s Office pay $600,000 to satisfy the judgment.

Now the facts of the latest verdict against the New Orleans District Attorney’s Office for the wrongful conviction of John Thompson. Thompson had had his execution postponed half a dozen times until it was discovered he did not commit the armed robbery of which he was convicted. Then it was revealed prosecutors at his trial had hidden blood tests that proved he had not committed the robbery. Put on trial again for the murder of Raymond Liuzza, Jr. Thompson at this latter jury trial used all the evidence the District Attorney had hidden from the jury in the original trial, and the jury acquitted him after only a half-hour deliberation.

Now exonerated from having committed the crime yet imprisoned for 18 years by the wrongful acts of the District Attorney’s Office, Thompson filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court. The jury decided in favor of Thompson and award him $15 million. The present District Attorney, Leon Cannizzaro, defended that lawsuit and now must come up with a way to pay for it. Cannizzaro did not do himself proud when arguing to the appellate federal court that Thompson did not deserve this $15 million in the trial court. Canizzaro argued to the appellate court that death row wasn’t really all that bad, that Thompson had been allowed all that gotten to watch TV and play chess and all his medical care was taken care of as he waited for execution date after execution date to be re-set.

The appellate court remarked that the District Attorney presented a “misleading, rosy picture” of life on death row. The court knew that Thompson had spent nearly two decades of his life in the Angola prison in a six-by-nine foot cell without windows or air conditioning for 23 hours a day. The court heard evidence describing the prison with screaming out at all hours of the day and night, and with inmates who hurled human excrement and “the stench that permeated” the joint. Thompson received four visits a year from family members, but was otherwise left to himself to contemplate his impending execution. Experts testified that Thompson suffers from post-traumatic stress. No surprise there. So the District Attorney’s Office followed up the railroading of John Thompson with an attempt to cover up the extent of their wrongdoing.

Caught red handed now, with no where else to hid its crimes, the New Orleans District Attorney is now asking the State of Louisiana to grant his office permission to seek Chapter 9 bankruptcy.

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