COVID-19 kills an ex-death row inmate who was found not guilty.
COVID-19 claimed the life of a man who spent 15 years on death row before being exonerated in 2012. He was 47 years old at the time.
According to The Star Tribune, Damon Thibodeaux died on September 2 as a result of COVID-19 complications. After being falsely convicted of the 1996 murder of his step-cousin, he spent 16 years in prison, 15 of them on death row in Louisiana.
Steve Kaplan, a retired Minneapolis attorney who assisted in Thibodeaux’s release, was cited as stating, “It’s just unfair.” “I’m trying to come to terms with it, but you can’t.”
Thibodeaux relocated to Minnesota to resume his life after being exonerated by DNA tests on Sept. 28, 2012, and later settled in Texas with his family. Following his release, he worked as a long-haul trucker.
Thibodeaux was on the road in early August when he was diagnosed with COVID-19 and admitted to a hospital in Jacksonville, Florida. He’d only had his first dose of coronavirus vaccine a few days before. Thibodeaux had been expecting to be freed after three weeks in and out of intensive care just before he died.
On the evening of Sept. 2, he informed his younger brother, David, “Bro, I’m ready to get out of this place and come home.”
A doctor called David hours later to seek for permission to terminate resuscitation operations on his sibling. A nurse informed David that Thibodeaux’s lungs had collapsed and his heart had stopped.
“My stomach sank. It wasn’t only that I was being asked to release my brother. You’re asking me to let go of my best friend,” David explained.
In a statement released Thursday, the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization that assisted in Thibodeaux’s release, hailed him as “an exceptionally kind and lovely person.”
The organization stated, “He was the 142nd prisoner exonerated from death row and was never paid for his lost freedom.”
According to The Innocence Project, Thibodeaux was a 22-year-old deckhand on a Mississippi River barge in Louisiana in 1996 when his step-cousin Crystal Champagne was strangled to death.
A red extension cable was discovered wrapped around her neck, as well as evidence of a probable sexual assault.
Thibodeaux, who was named as a suspect because of his family’s connection to Champagne, denied any participation in her death and consented to take a polygraph test, which he was told he failed.
After nine hours of interrogation — only 54 minutes — he confessed to “consensual and non-consensual sex with the victim, followed by beating and murdering her.” Brief News from Washington Newsday.