The New York Times reported yesterday that "The Supreme Court had reversed a $14 million jury award in favor of a former death row inmate who had finally been aquitted & freed after prosecutorial misconduct came to light."
In early 1985, John Thompson was charged with the murder of Raymond T. Liuzza, Jr. in New Orleans. Publicity following the murder charge led the victims of an unrelated armed robbery to identify Thompson as their attacker, and he was also charged with that crime.
As part of the robbery investigation a blood test was ran on a stain on one of the victims' pants, the results being returned to the prosecutor's office two days before trial, but never being forwarded to Thompson's attorney. That evidence wasn't introduced at trial, and he was found guilty & convicted.
A few weeks later, Thompson was then tried for the Liuzza murder. Because of the armed robbery conviction, he did not testify in his own defense, and was subsequently convicted and sentenced to death for that crime.
In the 14 years following Thompson's murder conviction, state and federal courts reviewed and denied his challenges to the conviction and sentence; the State scheduling his execution for May 20, 1999.
Then in late April 1999, a private investigator doing research on a habeas action for Thompson discovered the crime lab report from the armed robbery investigation in the files of the New Orleans Police Crime Laboratory. Thompson was tested and found to have blood type O, proving that the blood on the swatch was not his. His attorneys presented this evidence to the district attorney's office, which, in turn, moved to stay the execution and vacate Thompson's armed robbery conviction. The Louisiana Court of Appeals then reversed Thompson’s murder conviction, concluding that the armed robbery conviction unconstitutionally deprived Thompson of his right to testify in his own defense at the murder trial. Re-tried in 2003, he was found not guilty.
Thompson subsequently sued the district attorney's office, prosecutors, and others involved in the trial, alleging that their conduct caused him to be wrongfully convicted, incarcerated for 18 years, and nearly executed. The only claim that proceeded to trial, the case shows, was Thompson’s claim under§1983 that the district attorney’s office had violated Brady by failing to disclose the crime lab report in his armed robbery trial. A jury awarded Thompson $14 million in damages, with the District Court adding more than $1million in attorney’s fees and costs.
The Fifth Circuit affirmed on appeal.
In its decision Tuesday, a divided Supreme Court said "A district attorney’s office may not be held liable under §1983 for failure to train its prosecutors based on a single Brady violation… it does not follow that, because Brady has gray areas and some Brady decisions are dif-ficult, prosecutors will so obviously make wrong decisions that failingto train them amounts, as it must, to “a decision by the city itself to violate the Constitution."