DNA evidence exonerated yet another death row inmate on Friday, after a Louisiana judge overturned the murder and rape convictions of 38-year-old Damon Thibodeaux. Thibodeaux had served 16 years in prison — 15 in solitary confinement – for the alleged rape and murder of his 14-year-old step cousin.
Thibodeaux was convicted based solely on a confession, recanted later
that day, that he says was obtained after nine solid hours of threat-riddled, unrecorded police interrogation.
Countering that confession was a dearth of any evidence corroborating
that he was the perpetrator. In fact, it was later determined that the
victim had not been sexually assaulted at all.
Thibodeaux now becomes the 300th person
and the 18th death row inmate exonerated by DNA evidence – an important
marker for the emergence of DNA exonerations. But it would be a mistake
to think that DNA is a magic pill to cure the ills of our criminal
justice system. If anything, these exonerations say more about the high
error rate in convictions than about the power of DNA, given that there
is no DNA evidence in the vast majority of cases (even in Thibodeaux’s
case, DNA evidence was initially unavailable), and that routine
collection of DNA from suspects can have perverse and troubling effects. The Washington Post’s Douglas A. Blackmon explains:
I would have thought it would be more by now. Tom