Fifteen years ago, John Thompson's life was drastically altered by two unrelated crimes that took place in New Orleans.
First, businessman Ray Liuzza, Jr. was murdered during an armed robbery on December 6, 1984. He was shot five times, and died at a hospital two hours later.
Next, on December 28, 1984, a man attempted to carjack three teenagers: Stewart, Marie and Michael Lagarde. During the ensuing struggle, Stewart Lagardes pant leg and shoe were stained with the suspects blood. The shoe and a swatch of material from the pants were taken into evidence for testing.
John Thompson and Kevin Freeman were arrested and indicted for the murder of Ray Liuzza, Jr. on January 17, 1985. On the same day, Johns photo appeared on the front page of the newspaper, and he appeared briefly on the evening news. The next day, the Lagarde family contacted the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD), stating that they recognized John as the perpetrator of the December 28 carjacking. John was rebooked on the armed robbery charges.
Prosecutors knew that securing a death penalty would be difficult, as John had no history of violent crime. So, although the murder had taken place prior to the armed robbery, the attempted armed robbery was tried first. During the trial, all three victims identified John as their attacker. No blood evidence was ever introduced or mentioned.
In the ensuing murder trial, the armed robbery conviction played a prominent part in establishing John as a hardened repeat offender. One of the carjacking victims took the stand during the penalty phase, and vividly described the perpetrators brutality and violence during the crime. The jury recommended the death sentence.John maintained his innocence, and steadfastly refused to sign any plea bargains.
After his years of appeals were exhausted, Johns eighth execution date was set for May 20, 1999, the day before his younger sons high school graduation.
In a last-ditch effort, attorneys Michael Banks and J. Gordon Cooney, who had been working Johns case pro bono for 11 years, hired a private investigator to scrutinize the evidence and events that had resulted in the 1985 convictions. The PI unearthed a microfiche containing the results of a lab test on the bloody pant leg. The blood, which prosecutors had determined to be that of the perpetrator, was identified as type B. Hospital records showed that Johns blood type is O.
The NOPD crime lab generated the blood type report on April 9, 1985, and former prosecutor Bruce Whittaker says he recalls placing the blood type report on the cases chief prosecutor Jim Williams desk around that date. Records released from the D.A.s office show that former assistant D.A. Gerry Deegan checked out the evidence from the police evidence room on April 11, 1995, the day Johns armed robbery trial began.
Six days later, when the evidence was turned over to the clerk of the courts office, the blood evidence was missing from the items logged into the courthouse evidence room. The evidence was neither used nor recorded during the trial; in fact, it apparently was never seen again. All the cases evidence has since been destroyed, reportedly in accordance with routine policy.
Mike Riehlmann, also a former assistant D.A., recalls that his close personal friend Gerry Deegan privately confessed to him that he (Deegan) had hidden blood evidence that could have cleared Thompson of the armed robbery charge. The confession came a few months before Deegans death in early 1994. Riehlmann apologized to the American Bar Association for failing to come forward sooner, saying that he did not make a conscious decision to conceal his knowledge.
D.A. Harry Connick joined Johns attorneys in requesting a stay of execution, which Judge Patrick Quinlan granted. This was an unprecedented move for Connick, who proceeded to launch a grand jury probe into his offices dealings with the case. John Glas, the prosecutor designated to head the probe, resigned shortly after, citing matters of personal principle.
Connick discontinued the investigation, stating that the involved parties could no longer be charged with misconduct because the statute of limitations had run out.
In a June 29, 1999 hearing, the court vacated Johns armed robbery charge, and ordered a new trial. John and his attorneys are seeking new trials for the guilt and penalty phases of the murder charge. John contends that the state unconstitutionally interfered with his right to testify on his own behalf in the murder trial by obtaining a false armed robbery conviction and threatening to use it to impeach John's credibility if he chose to take the stand. He also asserts that the state failed to reveal evidence that would have been favorable to the defense in the murder case.
This page was last updated on 02/26/00.