Innocent man wrongly held on death row for 15 years dies of Covid after release

‘Damon was a remarkable man, who will be missed by many. He was loved dearly by his family, his friends, and his attorneys,’ reads his obituary

Clara Hill
Monday 13 September 2021 16:57
<p>Damon Thibodeaux sat on death row for 15 years in Louisiana before dying from covid complications.  </p>

Damon Thibodeaux sat on death row for 15 years in Louisiana before dying from covid complications.

A man who was exonerated after being on death row for 15 years has died from complications from Covid-19, say reports.

Damon Thibodeaux, 47, died after contracting coronavirus earlier this month. He was admitted to hospital while passing through Jacksonville, Florida while working as a freight delivery driver.

Thibodeaux ended up living in Texas after being released from Louisiana State Penitentiary in 2012. After being imprisoned for 15 years awaiting the death penalty, he was declared innocent after DNA evidence emerged. According to his obituary, “he died without receiving any compensation for his wrongful conviction”.

In 1996, at age 22, Thibodeaux was falsely convicted for the murder of his 14-year-old step-cousin Crystal Charmaine. Her body was found in the Mississippi River, where he worked as a deckhand on a barge. Local authorities interrogated Thibodeaux for hours, prompting him to provide them with a false confession.

He told police, “I didn’t know that I had done it, but I done it.”

The following year, he was convicted and sentenced to death for her rape and murder. While he was incarcerated, a team of lawyers worked to free him. Eventually, they were able to prove his confession did not tell the same story as the forensic evidence. In addition, they successfully highlighted the unreliability of witness statements. Following this, an expert from the District Attorney’s Office ruled the confession to be false.

John Koneck, president of Fredrikson and Byron, a law firm involved in the process, told the Star Tribune, “Life had knocked him down so many times.”

Throughout his childhood, Thibodeaux and his brother David Thibodeaux experienced abuse from multiple adults in their lives, including relatives, such as his stepfather, grandfather and neighbours, according to the Star Tribune.

Another lawyer, Steven Kaplan, told the paper, “It’s so unfair. I’m struggling to make peace with it, but you can’t.”

Mr Kaplan had helped Thibodeaux establish himself in the immediate aftermath of being released from prison.

However, despite the hardship in his life, those who knew Thibodeaux found him to be an incredibly positive force in their lives.

“Everybody got to see how big of a heart he had. He proved to everyone that he wasn’t the monster that they made him out to be,” his brother David Thibodeaux told the Star Tribune.

Thibodeaux’s brother got the call from the hospital seeking permission to stop resuscitating him.

“My heart sunk. I wasn’t just being asked to let my brother go. You’re asking me to let my best friend go,” he told the paper about hearing the news.

According to David Thibodeaux, the nurse on the phone had said, “I’m sorry. I’m truly sorry.”

Before he passed away, Damon Thibodeaux told his brother, “Bro, I’m ready to get out of this place and come home,” on 2 September, which David Thibodeaux said was the same thing his brother had said when he left prison in 2012.

According to reports, the day after Damon Thibodeaux got his first shot of the Moderna vaccine, he ventured out on a delivery, going from Waco, Texas, to Chicago and then to New York.

When he got to Florida, Thibodeaux experienced an intense pain in the right side of his body. After taking himself to a nearby emergency room, he collapsed. While in hospital, he experienced both covid and pneumonia At the same time, his mother, Cynthia Thibodeaux, 64, was admitted to hospital with covid, however she later recovered.

Thibodeaux was informed by his medical team that he would be able to leave, however he experienced heart failure and died.

His brother told the Star Tribune, “I believe Damon is truly home and has found peace that he could in the flesh.”

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