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May 11, 2023

Death Sentence!

Death Sentence!
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In this episode of Bloody Angola,  Woody Overton and Jim Chapman tell you some stories you will have to hear to believe regarding inmate of Louisiana State Penitentiary who were sentenced to DEATH ROW getting exonerated after DNA evidence or other substantiating evidence cleared them of their crime and saved them from getting the needle.

#DeathSentence #DNA #InnocenceProject #BloodyAngola #Podcast

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Jim:Hey, everyone. And welcome back to another edition of Bloody-




Jim:A podcast 142 years in the making. 


Woody:The complete story of America's bloodiest prison. 


Jim:And I'm Jim Chapman. 


Woody:And I'm Woody Overton. 


Jim:And we're going back to our roots, Woody Overton.


Woody:Right back inside the wire. 


Jim:Back inside the wire. Just when you thought we got out. Just coming back here. 


Woody:Yep. [crosstalk] They made me come back in. 


Jim:That's right. Look, we talk a lot on this show about the advancement, especially DNA, something you've worked with in the past many times. 


Woody:Yeah. This is a huge testament to DNA. When I started, it was really coming in its own. Now it's so much more advanced. I remember putting rushes on murder cases, and it taken six months to get the results back. 


Jim:That's crazy. Even back, we talked about Sean Vincent Gillis, and that was really probably one of the first times they were ever able to really rush something to the point where it really helped because you had to get that serial killer off the street. 


Woody:Derrick Todd Lee too. Still, even the rush back then took a long time. Not like it is now. 




Woody:You know what? I'm totally for it. And let me do this real quick. I want to give a shout out to all our patrons. We love and appreciate each and every one of y'all. We love all you listeners, and bloody shooting to the top of the charts. It's because y'all are listening, liking and sharing. Please continue to do so. And we love y'all very much. Back to the DNA, it's just come leaps and bounds that continue to change every day. We always tell you Bloody Angola is going to be different, and this is different. You would think, oh, hard ass like me, lock everybody up, I don't believe in that. I believe if you're innocent you're innocent. 


Jim:If you're guilty, lock them up.


Woody:If you're guilty, you- [crosstalk] 


Jim:Don't wait [crosstalk] 


Woody:[crosstalk] -you'll pay hella jail. 


Jim:[laughs] Hella jail, that's right. We did want to preface this episode with some of these guys were exonerated from DNA. Some of them, it was other reasons. And we're going to get into that. The intriguing thing about today's episode is many of these guys that we're going to tell you about were actually serving in death row. They've been sentenced to death. 


Woody:Today, we're going to be talking about people or convicts who were exonerated and released from Bloody Angola.


Jim:Yes. We want to kind of start this off. I'm just going to tell you about the Innocence Project. The Innocence Project was founded in 1992 by Barry Scheck, y'all, familiar with him through OJ. It was basically formed to assist incarcerated individuals who could be proven innocent, primarily through DNA testing. Although sometimes they find so many holes in a case, they'll pick up a case where there's so many problems that they take that case on and look for exonerations in those cases. The average prison sentence before they'll take on a case is 14 years before their exoneration or release. And so, it's a process, even with those guys, but we're going to them to it. 


Woody:They don't just take anybody, right? 




Woody:One of the ones I can tell you about if-- ready to get started?


Jim:I'm ready. 


Woody:Is John Thompson. John Thompson was from Orleans Parish. I'll just read you some of the facts of the case, some of the highlights, and what ultimately ended up happening. Shortly after midnight on December 6th, 1984, Raymond Liuzza was shot several times in the course of an armed robbery just around the corner from his New Orleans, Louisiana apartment. When the cops arrived, they found Liuzza laying on the ground, but he was still conscious. He told them he was robbed and shot by an African American male and then took him to hospital and he died. On December 8th, responded to tip, the police arrested two men in connection with the crime. John Thompson and Kevin Freeman. Photos of the two men were published in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and soon afterwards, police received a call from a family that had been carjacked several months earlier, claiming that Thompson looked like the person who had robbed them. Thompson was charged with the murder. Meanwhile, Freeman agreed to testify against Thompson in the murder trial, and in return, prosecutors charged him only with being an accessory to the murder. He was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. We're talking about Freeman, y'all. 


The world-famous New Orleans district attorney, Harry Connick, Sr,, not Junior, that's his son, the singer and actor, decided to try Thompson for the carjacking case first, knowing that a conviction could be used against him in the murder trial. Based primarily on the eyewitness testimony of the three carjacking victims, all of whom were minors, Thompson was convicted on April 4, 1985, and sentenced to 49 years in prison. That is for the carjacking. Y'all, always told you that eyewitness testimony is the worst testimony there is, but doesn't mean it's not true. 


At his murder trial, held shortly thereafter, the prosecution demonstrated that Thompson had at one time been in possession of both the murder weapon and a ring taken from Liuzza’s finger. Thompson decided not to testify in his own defense because if he did, his felony carjacking charge would have been admissible to the jury. As a result, he was unable to tell the jury that Freeman had sold him the murder weapon and the ring. Freeman, the main witness for the prosecution, claimed that he and Thompson had robbed Liuzza together and that Thompson had shot him. This testimony was contradicted by the statements of eyewitnesses who claimed to have seen only one man running from the scene of the crime. Richard Perkins, who had originally called in the tip implicating Thompson and Freeman, also testified for the prosecution, claiming that he had heard Thompson make incriminating remarks. Thompson was found guilty and sentenced to death on May 8th, 1985. 


Fast forward a whole bunch of years, y'all, and events took a dramatic turn in April 1999, 30 days before scheduled execution, an investigator discovered that there was a blood stain from the robber on the clothing of one of the carjacking victims and that this evidence had never been disclosed to the defense. It's Brady, y'all. If they had it, they got to give it up. The prosecutor had ordered testing to determine the blood type of the stain, and in fact, they had rushed the test. But when the blood type was determined-- I guess this was before DNA. Blood type was determined and was different from Thompson's. They concealed it. Defense attorneys then obtained an affidavit Michael Rielhmann, a former district attorney, who said that five years earlier, in 1994, Gerry Deegan, one of Thompson's prosecutors, admitted on his deathbed that the blood evidence was intentionally suppressed and that he left a report about it on the desk of James Williams, the lead prosecutor. Williams denied ever seeing the report. Defense attorneys also learned that Perkins, the witness who testified that Thompson had admitted the murder, had received $15,000 from the Liuzza family as a reward. When this evidence was presented to the trial judge, he granted a stay of execution and dismissed Thompson’s carjacking conviction, but he denied Thompson’s motion for a new trial on the Liuzza murder. In 2001, however, he reduced Thompson’s death sentence to life in prison without parole. 




Woody:Pretty crazy, right? 


Jim:Very crazy. 


Woody:In July of 2002, the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal overturned Thompson’s murder conviction and remanded the case for retrial, ruling that the false robbery conviction obtained by deliberate government misconduct had deprived Thompson of his constitutional right to testify on his own behalf at the murder trial. Y'all, I'm not against that. I mean, give him a new trial, if it was messed up. At the second trial, Thompson was able to explain that he purchased the murder weapon from Freeman, and the defense called several new witnesses who claimed to have seen only one man fleeing the scene of the murder. They said that the man did not look like Thompson, but did resemble Freeman who, in the meantime, had been killed in a shootout with a security guard. On May 8, 2003, a jury acquitted Thompson after deliberating for 35 minutes, and he was released from prison the same day. Y'all, 35 minutes is for conviction? That's outstanding. But for exoneration, I mean, that's unbelievable. It normally takes hours--[crosstalk]  


Jim:They were pretty convinced. 


Woody:Yeah, they want to make sure. In 2008, Thompson won a $14 million civil suit against the District Attorney’s Office. That judgment was reversed by the US Supreme Court in March 2011 on the grounds that the misconduct in the case was not the result of a deliberate policy or systematic indifference by the New Orleans DA's Office. He got $330,000 in state compensation. But you know what? That's a long time to be on death row, and you didn't do it. 


Jim:He's a good example of someone that it wasn't necessarily DNA evidence that exonerated him, but it was the facts of the case. 


Woody:I have heard this case before, and actually, I think it's pretty well documented-


Jim:Thank you.


Woody:-but what's right is right and what's wrong is wrong. But you know what the sad thing is? In 2017, Thompson died of a heart attack at age 55. 


Jim:Yeah, man. And you nailed it when you're talking about those bloodstains. Back when he was convicted, it was '85. There was no DNA. 


Woody:I think it was like '92 when the first time it was used successfully. Even then, most prosecutors thought it was junk science. So, it had to be used over and over again successfully and tested and tested and tested and it grew to what it is today. 


Jim:That's right. Let me tell you about another case out of death row in Angola that was actually-- 


Woody:That place you don't want to go.


Jim:No, you don't want to go there. But was actually reversed over DNA, and that is the case of Ryan Matthews. So, Matthews was 16 years old, y'all, at the time he was sentenced-- or arrested rather, and was 17 when he was sentenced to death for shooting of Tommy Vanhoose, who was a convenience store owner in Bridge City, Louisiana. You familiar with Bridge City? 


Woody:Yeah. That's where the juvenile prison used to be. 


Jim:There you go. So, in April of 1997, a man wearing a ski mask entered the store and demanded money. When Vanhoose refused, the perpetrator shot him four times and fled, taking off his mask and diving into the passenger seat of a window of an awaiting car. Several eyewitnesses viewed the perpetrator's flight. One woman was in her car and watched the perpetrator run from the store, fire shots into her direction, and leap in the car. So, these guys were hightailing it. They done shot somebody four times. When she was later showed a photographic array, which is like a six pack, y'all, she tentatively identified Matthews as the assailant. By the time of the trial, she was sure that Matthews was the gunman. Two other witnesses in the same car watched as the perpetrator shed his mask, gloves, and shirt as he fled. The driver claimed to have seen the perpetrator's face in his rearview mirror while he was being shot at and trying to block the escape. The witness and his passenger were brought to a show-up hours later. The driver identified Matthews. His passenger was unable to make an identification.


As per our previous case, identifications not very reliable now.


Ryan Matthews and Travis Hayes, both 17 at the time, were stopped several hours after the crime because the car they were riding in resembled the description of the getaway car. They were arrested and Hayes was then questioned for over six hours. His initial statements to investigators, Hayes claimed that he and Matthews were not in the area where the crime occurred. Hayes eventually confessed that he was the driver of the getaway car. He stated that Matthews went into the store, shots went off and Matthews ran out and got into the car. Both boys were described as borderline intellectually disabled. In 1999, based mainly on identifications, Matthews was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.


Woody:There you go. 


Jim:Hayes was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. Matthews had maintained his innocence since the arrest. The defense presented evidence that forensic testing of the mask excluded both Matthews and Hayes. A defense expert also testified the car the two boys were driving, the reason they were stopped, could not have been a getaway car because the passenger side window that Matthews allegedly jumped through was inoperable and could not be rolled down. How do you get around that? I don't know, but they did. Other witnesses to the crime described the shooter as being much shorter than Matthews as well, which that's not necessarily that reliable. Height is hard to determine. 


Woody:You can put four people in the room and four people may get the different height and weight or whatever on. If it's a correct identification, basically you can bring them back two weeks later and they can still pick out the facial features.


Jim:That's right. So, y'all ready to hear how this person got exonerated? Well, DNA testing in another murder case proved to be the keys to proving Matthews' innocence, another murder occurring shortly after Vanhoose's death in the same area. A local resident named Rondell Love was arrested. He pled guilty, and Love bragged to other inmates that he also killed Vanhoose. And that happens, y'all, you'd be surprised. 


Woody:Street cred. 


Jim:This got back to Matthews' attorneys, I'm sure, through Matthews, and they began to investigate Love. DNA test results from the second murder were compared to the results from the Matthews' conviction, indicating that Love had been wearing the mask that was left behind in the Vanhoose's murder. Testing on the mask, gloves and shirt had already excluded Matthews and Hayes, but they became conclusive after Love's profile was included. 


Woody:There you go. 


Jim:So somehow, even though they were excluded from all that DNA in the first trial, there was no one to necessarily pin it on. So, it got pinned on them. Well, you can't get around it when someone else's profile shows up. Over a year after this information was discovered, he was granted a new trial. He wasn't released. He was just granted a new trial. But he did eventually get released. The new trial, he was found not guilty and became the 14th death row inmate in the United States proven innocent by post-conviction DNA testing. 


Woody:That’s crazy.


Jim:After two more years of legal battles, you'd think he'd get out right away?


Woody:They got to make sure. 


Jim:Yeah. Travis Hayes was released in December 2006 and exonerated in January of 2007. You may think that someone in this position, they must have got a ton of money. I mean, you sentenced to death, for Christ's sake. He received $252,000 in state compensation and another $133,000 from the federal courts. To tell you how resilient this cat is, in 2019, Matthews graduated from Texas University with his bachelor's degree. 




Jim:I get chills from that because, man, look--


Woody:They were going to kill him.


Jim:They were going to kill him. 


Woody:I get it, not to get into death penalty arguments, whatever, but I'm telling you this I'm glad John Thompson got off death row, and I'm glad he got off a death row, but I promise you, there's some monsters up there deserve to be there.


Jim:Oh, there's no doubt about it.


Woody:Don’t deserve [crosstalk] to breathe. 


Jim:Well, it's like you always say, just make sure you get it right. That’s the important thing.


Woody:Yeah, that’s it. If you're going to do it, do it right. Especially when you're talking about taking somebody's life. That's why they have the appeals process the last 20 plus years before they kill them. Let's talk about Glenn Ford. Glenn Ford from up in Caddo, that's where Hugo Holland-- 


Jim:That's right. Caddo--[crosstalk]  


Woody:He was another one, y'all, sentenced to death. He was convicted in 1984. But let me tell you about it. On November 5th, 1983, a 56-year-old Isadore Rozeman, a jeweler and watchmaker, was found shot to death in his shop in Shreveport, Louisiana. His pockets were pulled, and items were missing from the store. One of the first people to be questioned was 34-year-old Glenn Ford, an affable man who did yard work for Rozeman. Ford denied being involved in the crime, though he admitted he had been near the store at some point earlier in the day and witnesses told police they saw him near the store. In February 1984, items from Rozeman’s store turned up in a pawnshop and a handwriting analyst said that Ford had signed the pawn slips. Marvella Brown told police that her boyfriend, Jake Robinson, Jake’s brother, Henry, and Ford were at her house on the day of the crime and left together after Ford asked "if they were going." Brown said Ford was carrying a brown paper bag. When the men returned later that day, Ford was carrying a different bag and had a gun in his waistband. Jake Robinson also was carrying a gun. Brown said Jake showed her a bag containing watches and rings. That is suspicious.


Ford, along with Jake and Henry Robinson and a fourth man, George Starks, were charged with capital murder and conspiracy to commit armed robbery in February 1984. November 1984, Ford went to trial. And Ford was represented by two appointed defense attorneys, neither of whom had ever handled a criminal trial, and one of whom had never handled a criminal case of any sort. That's kind of bad. 


Jim:Yeah. That's not the attorneys I want to represent--


Woody:Right. When you're on trial for your life. 


Jim:Oh, my God. 


Woody:If you're in Livingston Parish, you want Jasper Brock handling your business. [crosstalk]  


Jim:Yeah. This is a death penalty trial. 


Woody:If you're anywhere else over on that side of Louisiana, you want Thomas Davenport out of Alexandria to handle it, because that's what they do. These guys had never even handled a case like this. 


Jim:It's crazy. 


Woody:Anyway, Brown fell apart on the witness stand and said on cross-examination that detectives had fabricated her responses and she had lied in her testimony. She said she had been shot in the head earlier in her life and the bullet was never removed causing difficulty with thinking and hearing. 


Jim:Makes sense.


Woody:Several witnesses testified that they saw Ford near the victim’s store on the day of the shooting, but no one testified that they saw the crime. A gunshot residue expert testified for the prosecution that after Ford had voluntarily come in for questioning, he recovered gunshot residue on Ford’s hands. A fingerprint analyst said he lifted a single fingerprint from a paper bag found at the scene. He said that the print contained a “whorl” type pattern and that Ford had such a pattern, while the Robinson Brothers did not. Dr. George McCormick, Caddo Parish coroner, testified that he had analyzed the scene of the crime, including the position of Rozeman’s body and a duffel bag found next to the body with a bullet hole in it. McCormick said he concluded that the victim was shot by someone who held the gun in his left hand. Ford is left-handed and the Robinsons are right-handed. Not looking good for Ford.


Jim:No, not at all. 


Woody:McCormick also said that Rozeman had been dead for as long as two hours by the time the body was discovered, a time when witnesses said they saw Ford near the store. Ford testified on his own behalf, which most of them don't, but he testified and denied his involvement in the crime. He admitted selling items to the pawn shop, but said he'd got them from the Robinson brothers.


On December 5th, 1984, the jury convicted Ford of capital murder and conspiracy to commit armed robbery. Following the jury's recommendation, Ford was sentenced to death on February 26th, 1985. After Ford was convicted and sentenced, the prosecution dismissed the charges against the Robinson Brothers and Starks. 


Jim:Let me just say this, okay, the inexperience of the lawyers that you mentioned is glaring when they allowed him to testify in his own defense in a death penalty case. Holy crap.


Woody:I don't know when they changed the law, but I know Jasper Brock in Livingston Parish-- [crosstalk] 


Jim:Yeah. Jasper Brock would say, "He ain't talking." [chuckles] 


Woody:And I know Thomas Davenport, they're certified in death penalty cases. You have to actually get certified to defend somebody in death penalty cases now.


Jim:Yeah. Probably, this case caused it.


Woody:Probably one of them I mean, they should've known this shit was going to get done the way--[crosstalk] 


Jim:That’s crazy. 


Woody:Still, I believe everybody has the right to a fair trial. Ford goes to death row. His appeals were unsuccessful until 2000 when the Louisiana Supreme Court ordered a hearing on post-conviction petition for a new trial filed by the Capital Post Conviction Project of Louisiana. At the hearing in 2004, a defense expert testified that McCormick's attempt to reconstruct the crime had no connection to known facts and were speculation at best, and I agree with that, they're talking about the coroner. You can't tell somebody's left-handed from a bullet hole and a duffel bag. Anyway, another defense expert said that the gunshot residue evidence was meaningless because it was gathered more than a day after the crime and that Ford could have easily picked up the residue merely by being in a police station where such residue is extremely common.


Another defense expert said that the prosecution's fingerprint expert misidentified the fingerprint on the paper bag, and it could have been left by the Robinson Brothers. All very, very true. Ford's lawyers at the trial testified that they were very inexperienced in criminal cases. 


Jim:Even the lawyers. 


Woody:[crosstalk] -Jasper and Thomas Davenport. And had no training in capital defense. If I was Ford, I'd be raising hell. I'm like, "You got me two guys that are wet behind the ears. Give me a pro."


Jim:Crazy, man. 


Woody:Jasper Brock or Thomas Davenport. They're even saying that he deserves--


Jim:Yeah. They go on the stand and say, "Yeah, we pretty--" [crosstalk] 


Woody:One of the lawyers who specialized in oil and gas law had never tried a case to a jury, either civil or criminal. That's like my brothers. One's a tax lawyer and one's a maritime lawyer. They've never been inside a courtroom. The extent of his prior criminal work was handling two guilty pleas. That's easy enough. The other lawyer, who was out of law school less than two years and was working at an insurance firm handling personal injury cases. Both said they were unaware they could seek court funding for defense experts, shocker, and didn't hire any because they couldn't afford to pay out of their own pockets. Both were unaware of how to subpoena witnesses from out of state. So, Ford's family members, who lived in California, did not testify for Ford at the guilt or punishment phase of the trial. The defense presented numerous police reports that had never been disclosed to the defense.


The report showed that Shreveport Police had received two tips from informants implicating only Jake and Henry Robinson in the robbery and murder. Other police reports showed that some detectives had falsely testified at Ford's trial about statements Ford made during his interrogation. Testimony that the prosecution should have realized was false, the defense claimed. Moreover, other police reports that were withheld from the defense contained conflicting statements by Marvella Brown and by the witnesses who said that they saw Ford near the store at the time of the crime. Reports could have been used to impeach the witness testimony at trial. 




Woody:But still, the post-conviction motion was denied. In 2012, the Caddo Parish District Attorney's Office began reinvesting the case, and in 2013, disclosed that an informant told authorities that Jake Robinson had admitted shooting Rozeman.


Jim:Oh, wow.


Woody:So, the honorable and right thing to do, in March 2014, the prosecution filed a motion to vacate Ford's conviction and death sentence in light of the newly discovered evidence from the informant. On March 11th, 2014, a judge vacated Ford's convictions, and the prosecution dismissed their charges, and Ford was then released. 


Jim:How about that? 


Woody:Even after all that, they'd fallen so hard in the second trial, etc. They came forward-- I think, you know what? I don't know if Hugo Holland was still the prosecutor up there at the end. I'll have to look it up. Maybe I'll ask him. He just messaged me last night. But that's an honorable thing to do. But in March 2015, a Caddo Parish district judge denied Ford's request for state compensation. Judge ruled that Ford knew the robbery was going to happen, did not try to stop it, that he attempted to destroy evidence by selling items taken robbery, and that he tried to find buyers for the murder weapon. Unfortunately, in June of 2015, Ford died of lung cancer. 


Jim:Yeah, that's a good kind of segue for a second, Woody, just to talk about, look, not all the guys we're going to tell you about today are Citizens of the Year. Some of them definitely committed some crimes or may have withheld some evidence, like in this case. But that's a long jump from being sentenced to death for a murder you didn't commit. 


Woody:Look, we have our legal process for a reason. A lot of my cases are bad cases where the witnesses are like really shady people or they're criminals themselves. Well, guess what? A lot of these crimes don't happen with a bunch of choir boys. You know what I mean? You're not running with choir boys when you're going to murder somebody and steal the jury. 


Jim:You're going to put them to death--


Woody:But having two inexperienced attorneys and all the other stuff and the guy saying about-- whatever, that's not enough to kill somebody.


Jim:That's right. We're going to give you a two for one right here. And you're not going to believe this. 


Woody:Let me tell you real quick, I know I keep talking about [unintelligible 00:31:23]. I don't know if this is-- we'll have to get him on. This part, he's a part of this Innocence Project, but I don't think it's the same one. Barry Scheck is another one. He got a guy off a death row. 


Jim:Wow. He'd be great to sit down and talk to.


Woody:He got a guy off a death row. He told me about the case, and I was like, "Holy shit." But I think it was out of Missouri. He's in all federal courts and everywhere else, Thomas Davenport, but he believes everybody deserves a criminal defense. And I agree with that. If you're a cop and you got it right, you got them right. Don't sentence them to death, don't send them away for life on some bullshit. 


Jim:That's right. We're going to tell you about Michael Graham and Albert Burrell. Now, both of these gentlemen were sentenced to death back in 1986.


Woody:I was 16 years old. 


Jim:That was a long time ago. Long time ago. On the night of August 31, 1986, 65-year-old William Delton Frost and his 60-year-old invalid wife, Callie, were fatally shot in their two-room home in Downsville, Louisiana, which is almost like a plantation area of Louisiana, very rural. The front door had been smashed in and police believed the motive was robbery because Frost didn't trust banks and was believed to keep cash in a suitcase in his home. A lot of older people, especially in those times, they didn't put money in the bank. They put money everywhere but the bank. The shots appeared to have been fired through a window and their bodies were discovered a couple of days later.


Now, six weeks after the murders, in October of 1986, Janet Burrell told police that she had met with her ex-husband on the night of the crime and that he had $2,700 in $100 bills and blood on his boots. That don't look good. She said he admitted firing the shots and she saw Frost's wallet on the front seat of his car. Wow. That's dead to rights. So, Burrell was arrested within the hour. Not long after, Kenneth St. Clair, another witness, told police that he had come to Louisiana with Michael Graham to find construction work. St. Clair told police that on the night of the crime, Graham and Burrell left the trailer where Graham was living near St. Clair about 8:30 PM returned, Graham had blood on him, St. Clair said. Now, you've got another person seeing that blood. At the time, Graham was in the Union Parish Jail on forgery charges for stealing a checkbook from a woman who hired him in St. Clair to do some work and then cashing about $300 worth of checks. 


Woody:Like you said, everybody in these stories aren’t angels. 


Jim:Yeah. On October of 1986, Graham and Burrell were each indicted on two counts of murder. Two days later, Graham's cellmate, Olan Brantly, told authorities that Graham had admitted he and Burrell committed the crime [crosstalk] [chuckles] that's it. And that Burrell had fired the fatal shot. So, Graham goes on trial in 1987 in the Union Parish Courthouse. The state's key witnesses were Janet Burrell, who we told you about, and Brantly, we also told you about. So, they got him dead to rights although police reports said that Frost's wallet was recovered in his home. A deputy testified that he believed Burrell had returned to the Frost home and put the wallet back because he suspected his wife had seen it the night they met. 


Woody:That makes a lot of sense, right? 




Woody:Why wouldn't you just throw it the fuck out-- [crosstalk] 


Jim:Yeah, that's a stretch and a half right there.


Woody:If you go back to the murder scene to put the wallet back, you got to think, "My wife might have seen it." 


Jim:[chuckles] Yeah. You're dumping it in the ditch or something. You're not putting it back. Another witness, 14-year-old Amy Opiel, who had spent the night of the crime with the St. Clair Family testified that she saw Graham Burrell sitting on the couch of a trailer with a suitcase and stacks of money. So, Graham was convicted on March 22nd, 1987, and sentenced to death. Burrell went on trial in August of '87, and he was also convicted and sentenced to death on pretty much the same evidence as Graham. Five months after Burrell was convicted, Janet Burrell, who by then was remarried to Burrell's brother James, I told you this was a good one, recanted her testimony, Woody Overton. She said she lied because she wanted to get custody of their child, which had been awarded to Albert Burrell prior to the murders. That's called motive to lie. So, the Louisiana Supreme Court, they grant--


Woody:That’s cold hearted.


Jim:Yeah, that's cold.




Jim:That’s as cold as you can get.


Woody:How shitty of a mom does she have to be for the dad to get custody in the state of Louisiana? That’s a rare deal. 


Jim:Well, somewhere along the line, her conscience weighed on her and she admitted she lied. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted Albert Burrell a hearing. A hearing. But at the hearing, Janet Burrell changed her testimony back, she's figuring it out, "Uh-oh. I might get in trouble for this," to her original story. The motion for a new trial was denied. Eventually, the conviction and death sentence got upheld by the Louisiana State Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Graham, don't forget about him, his case was also sent back for a hearing in motion for a new trial because of all this going on. His lawyers, they continued to get extension after extension, and they began to cover new evidence. By 1995, Janet Burrell shows up again. She says, "I'm going to recant my testimony again."


Woody:She's unreliable now. 


Jim:Yeah. The crazy thing was, the execution date was in August of '96, she recants it in 1995. The lawyers, closer it gets to that execution date, they're 24 hours a day trying to get you a stay. 17 days away from his death, Burrell's lawyer obtains a stay. In 1998, Amy Opiel shows up again and recants her testimony, claiming she was pressured to lie and that it was St. Clair she saw with blood on his clothes and counting money. It wasn't Burrell. Okay, so Graham, he finally gets a hearing in 2000 where lawyers present all these recanted statements, as well as evidence that prosecutors failed to turn over, exculpatory evidence and impeachment evidence, including that Brantly had cut a deal with prosecutors on a pending charge, and then he was taking medication to control his mood swings. So, Brantly had a little bit of an anger problem, probably. On March 4th of 2000, Graham was granted a new trial after the Third Judicial District judge, Cynthia Woodard, ruled that prosecutors have misled the jury and failed to turn over exculpatory evidence. Woody, what is exculpatory evidence? 


Woody:Anything that could possibly make the jury find them not guilty.


Jim:Yeah. On December 28th of 2000, they dismissed charges against Graham, and he was released from prison. This is a man that was 17 days from getting the needle. 


Woody:From executing.


Jim:Yes. On January 2nd, you may wonder, "What about Burrell?" January 2nd of 2001, charges against Burrell were dismissed and he was released. Now, in 2016, a state appeals court upheld a lower court ruling denying Graham and Burrell compensation from the state of Louisiana. Burrell and Graham filed a federal lawsuit, but a jury ruled against them.


Woody:They never solved the crime now. That's a cold case.


Jim:Cold case. And here's the interesting thing. You may wonder why they're denying this money. 


Woody:It's hard. It's almost impossible to get a nickel for being wrongfully convicted.


Jim:Exactly. Especially when you don't have DNA evidence to back it up, because basically that was so many inaccurate statements, but it didn't necessarily mean you didn't do it. It just means the people that said you did it were lying.


Woody:A lot of times, if they have find gross negligence, they have to prove that DA actually did what they said that you did or whatever. 


Jim:That's it. 


Woody:Really, people don't really care about people that are exonerated, basically in paying--


Jim:Those are two for one right there for you. 


Woody:A lot of states have a set amount. If you get exonerated, it's just whatever, which is crazy. There's no amount of money worth being on death row. In Angola, much less on death row. 


Jim:Yeah, the guy that was the singer that we did the episode. 


Woody:Yeah, Archie. 


Jim:How can you give that guy enough money? 


Woody:You can't. 


Jim:And he was exonerated on DNA evidence. He did not do it. 


Woody:You cannot give him enough.


Jim:You can't give him enough. So, why are you putting a ceiling on it? Because every situation is different. Someone like that, you can't give them enough, but Goddang, you need to give them millions. 


Woody:They should never have to work or do anything.




Woody:Y'all, we will tell you another one, and this one is a rape and a murder. It's the case of Damon Thibodeaux, which is a good, strong Cajun name. And another Louisiana man that was sentenced to death row at Bloody Angola. On July 19th, 1996, at around 05:15 PM, 14-year-old Crystal Champagne left her apartment in Marrero, Louisiana, to walk to a nearby supermarket. When she didn't return home as expected, her mother went looking for her. At around 6:45 PM, her father and 21-year-old stepcousin, Damon Thibodeaux, also went out to look for her, as did several neighbors. The search continued until the following afternoon, when friends of the family heard that a girl who looked like Crystal had been seen walking on the levee. Y'all, if you're not from South Louisiana, levees are manmade walls that hold back the rivers or the bayous or whatever. Said Crystal been seen walking on the levee in previous evening. Not long after, Champagne’s body was found near the levee. She was partially naked and had been strangled with a wire.


Before the girl’s body was found, JPSO investigators began interviewing people who had been with Champagne before she disappeared. An officer was interviewing Thibodeaux, who had been at the Champagne’s home when Crystal left for the store. When he was informed that her body had been found, a homicide detective then took over the questioning. Thibodeaux initially said he knew nothing about the murder. He agreed to a polygraph test, which police said indicated deception regarding the girl’s death. Uh-oh. 


Jim:And you being a former polygrapher--


Woody:I'm still a polygrapher, actually-- it's just so hard. Basically, at that point, the polygraph is an interrogation tool. It's hard to clear somebody who's accused of murder if you're not good as fuck like me.




Woody:No, seriously. You got to set the questions, the questions that they lied to, their response has to be stronger than, "Did you rape and murder this girl?" Well, fuck you, you're in the hot seat. You're looking at a death penalty. It's hard to do. So, they failed him, whoever it was, I don't know who it was. They failed him on the polygraph, which, let me tell you, the polygraph is a long process, but it's basically made to break people down if they're guilty. And it's five or six hours. But I always said a good homicide interrogation doesn't even begin until after five or six hours. That's when you really start to get in that ass. 


Eventually, after nine hours of questioning, Thibodeaux said that he had raped and murdered Crystal. He was arrested and charged with both crimes. After he was allowed to eat and rest, Thibodeaux quickly recanted his confession, but was ignored. At Thibodeaux’s 1997 trial, the prosecution built its case around his confession to the rape and murder. Dr. Fraser MacKenzie of the JPSO Coroner's Office, who performed autopsy on Crystal, testified the girl had been strangled to death and had injuries to her right eye and forehead consistent with getting hit by a bat or a rock. He noted bruises on the girl’s buttocks, which he said indicated a struggle. He estimated Crystal had been dead about 24 hours before she was found. Separately, Dr. Lamar Lee, a professor of entomology at Louisiana State University, testified about the insect samples taken from Crystal’s body. He said flies will lay eggs on a carcass within a couple of hours after death but will not lay eggs after dark. He said that the eggs were laid before nightfall--


Jim:That’s true?




Jim:[crosstalk] as hell.


Woody:Came out of the body farm originally out of Tennessee, but I didn't if they used maggots and the generation of flies, and they could tell you how long a body's been down like almost within 15 minutes. 




Woody:On July 19th, 1996, and calculated the age of the fly larvae or the maggots at between 24 and 28 hours old. They eat until they turn and fly, die and have more babies in cycle. There was no physical evidence linking Thibodeaux to the crimes, and though Crystal was found undressed, they found no semen on her body and no other physical evidence that she had been raped. A police officer testified that the semen could have been eaten by maggots. I guess.


A week after the crime, detectives questioned two women they found walking on the levee. Both said they saw a man pacing and acting nervously on the evening of the murder. Both women picked a photo of Thibodeaux from a photographic lineup, and both identified him at the trial. Thibodeaux’s attorney argued that detectives coerced the confession and suggested facts of the crime to him during their interrogation. On October 3rd, 1997, a jury convicted Thibodeaux of first-degree murder and rape. He was sentenced to death.


Jim:Oh, my God.


Woody:It's another one of our boys going up to death row.


Jim:Death row. 


Woody:So, fast forward ten more years, in 2007, the JPSO district attorney's office agreed to reinvestigate the case with the Innocence Project and other lawyers who volunteered to work on the case. Now, DNA testing as well as other forensic testing was performed, and investigators interviewed numerous witnesses. The investigation revealed that the women who identified Thibodeaux as the man they had seen pacing near the crime scene had seen Thibodeaux’s photo in the news media before police showed them the photo line-up. Moreover, the date of the sighting turned out to be the date after the body was found, when Thibodeaux was already locked up.


Jim:That could be a problem. 


Woody:Right. Well, you know what, you got to give props to JPSO DA's office for even trying to reopen and look at this, because most of them are like, "Fuck you. I [crosstalk] conviction."


Jim:Yeah, you did it. 


Woody:And he's on the death row. But extensive DNA testing on items recovered from the scene of the crime failed to detect any trace of biological material connecting Thibodeaux to the murder. Tests also showed that despite Thibodeaux’s confession to rape, Crystal had not been sexually assaulted. And DNA testing on the cord used to strangle Crystal identified a male DNA profile that did not belong to Thibodeaux.




Woody:Well, doesn’t totally excuse him. It could have been anything. Somebody else could have held the cord, and Thibodeaux could have been wearing gloves, we don't know. But the reinvestigation established firmly that Thibodeaux's confession was false. He claimed to have raped Champagne when in fact, no rape occurred. He said he strangled her with a gray speaker wire he took from his car, when in fact she was strangled with a red cord that had been tied to a tree near the crime scene. The prosecution consults an expert in false confessions who concluded that the confession was the result of police pressure, exhaustion, psychological vulnerability, and fear of the death penalty.




Woody:Yeah. I mean, it can happen, y'all. I hope every day that I didn't get the juice from somebody on the wrong level, and I don't think I did. Anyway, on September 29th, 2012, he was released from death row. Thibodeaux later filed a federal civil rights lawsuit that was put on hold in January 2017. Like most of our guys, he died in August of 2021.




Woody:But you know what? I know false confessions do happen. It's a real deal.


Jim:Yeah. You'll confess to anything if you're tired enough.


Woody:You had your ass [unintelligible 00:49:06].




Woody:[laughs] -eight, nine hours not eating, I mean, you're going to get the needle, da, da, da. It might have been, "Help me help you. You tell us what happened, we're going to tell that you cooperated." But the fact that he confesses and then they give him some food and he's like, [crosstalk]


Jim:Yeah. All right, we're going to give, y'all, one more today. We're going to tell you about a guy that definitely did not do it, was exonerated by DNA evidence, and that is Mr. Rickey Johnson. I saved this one for last today because he was in prison a long time for a rape he didn't commit. Matter of fact, he was in prison 25 years. 


Woody:That would suck. 


Jim:Yeah. One day in prison for something you didn't do, it sucks. All right, imagine 25 years. Let me tell you about the crime. In the early morning hours of July 12th, 1982, a 22-year-old woman awoke in her Northwest Louisiana home to find a man holding a gun to her head.




Jim:The man raped the woman twice, stayed at her house for four hours. He told her his name was Marcus Johnson, and he mentioned several details. He claimed they were about his life. He claimed to be looking for an ex-girlfriend of his from Many, Louisiana. He said he was on probation. He was from Leesville, Louisiana. He even said he had relatives in the town of Natchitoches and Monroe. The weird thing is, he raped this chick twice and then he starts telling her his life story. It's almost like he felt like, "Now, we have a connection." 


Woody:Yeah, I got this special nut dumping connection.


Jim:Yeah. What do you think the victim did? 


Woody:Pillow talk. 


Jim:She reports the rape the next morning, and at which point she told police her attacker was an African American man. He was between 5'6" and 5'8", and he weighed about 140 pounds. He had facial hair and a scarf tied around his head. A detective from the Sabine Parish Sheriff's Department contacted the Leesville Sheriff's Department to ask if they had a man named Marcus Johnson on file. There was no record of Marcus Johnson, but Leesville officers did tell detectives about Rickey Johnson. They said, "Well, we got another Johnson here. His name is Rickey. He's African American," and he was on probation for a traffic violation, a misdemeanor. Rickey matched some of the details that the lady provided of the perpetrator. He was from Leesville, he did have a child with a woman in Many, and he had relatives in Natchitoches and Monroe. So, he becomes a suspect. Nothing wrong with that. Police showed the victim a six pack, but it was actually only three pictures in this one. So, we're going to call it a three pack. 


Woody:Three pack. 


Jim:Yeah. It had Johnson's photo, which was at the center. 


Woody:I don’t know how you get away with that.


Jim:That picture was eight years old, and it was in the center. That's important. Mentally, you go to the center picture first. The victim told police that she had ample time to see the perpetrator's face and she identified Johnson as a perpetrator, even though he had a prominent gold tooth, which was never part of her description of the attacker. If a guy rapes you or a girl rapes you and they have a gold tooth, you're probably going to mention they had a gold tooth. 


Woody:You mentioned facial hair and everything else, and the gold tooth would stand out. 


Jim:Two days later, what do you think they do? They go arrest Rickey Johnson and they don't even investigate any other suspects at this time. They think they got their man. Johnson asserts his innocence. He says, "I didn't do any of this crap." Six days later, they conduct an in-person lineup with five individuals. Again, Johnson, they put in the center. And again, the victim identifies him as the assailant. The lineup was not presented at Johnson's trial because it was ruled inadmissible since Johnson did not have an attorney present at the lineup. I mean, it happens. Doesn't mean he didn't do it. Tests at the Shreveport Crime Lab determined that evidence collected from the victim at the hospital included sperm and serological testing that showed Johnson and 35% of the African American population could have been the contributor. So, that's basically no evidence. Too many people. 


Woody:Too many people are-- [crosstalk] African American. 


Jim:35% of the entire population. Johnson was charged with aggravated sexual assault and tried before a jury in Sabine Parish, Louisiana. The victim identified him at trial saying she was positive. 


Woody:Game over.


Jim:Positive that was him, and there was no question in her mind. She said the apartment was dark until about 15 minutes before he left. Prosecutors presented the victim's photo ID of Johnson and the serological evidence that his blood type matched the blood type of the perpetrator as determined--


Woody:Back then, they didn't have DNA. They could give you blood types, basically. 


Jim:That's it. So, long story short, he gets convicted by the jury and he's sentenced to life without parole. 


Woody:Bloody Angola.


Jim:Bloody Angola, baby, that's where you're going. So, Johnson contacts the Innocence Project at the suggestion of a guy named Calvin Willis, who was also a fellow inmate at Louisiana State Penitentiary. Willis was exonerated in 2003 after the Innocence Project secured DNA testing that proved his innocence. He basically called his boy and said, "If you really didn't do this, I got some people you need to talk to." Now, in late 2007, that DNA testing was performed on the sperm from the perpetrator of the crime. Remember, we said they had sperm. And the results proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Johnson could not have been the attacker.




Jim:This is the first DNA exoneration using the new technology with DNA at this time called Mini-STR, which allows labs to accurately test degraded or extremely small samples. First time. [crosstalk] In January 2008, they do what anybody would do, they took that DNA profile and now they have a database in 2008.






Woody:They got somebody else.


Jim:They got a hit, Woody Overton. And John McNeal, who was already in prison serving a life sentence for rape committed in 1983 in the same apartment complex incidentally as the crime for which Johnson was convicted.


Woody:How the hell do you not investigate that?


Jim:It's crazy, ain't it? He's already in prison for that rape committed in the same complex. And so basically, they offer their apologies. After 25 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit, Rickey Johnson was released and exonerated in 2008 after 25 years in prison. The state of Louisiana later awarded him $245,000 in compensation. That ain't even close to what he needed. 


Woody:Did Johnson go beat that other guy's ass? [crosstalk] 


Jim:[chuckles] That's a good question. I couldn't find the answer to that. I'm sure he wanted to. 


Woody:[crosstalk] -find, you could. 


Jim:He would've got some inmate justice. 


Woody:Yeah. "Bitch, you knew I've been here all this time for this," and you know they all know what they're down for. 


Jim:Oh, yeah.


Woody:You get your David Constance been in there lying, saying, "My wife put me up, but not on rape charge."






Jim:In the same apartment complex.


Woody:No doubt. That is crazy. 


Jim:It's freaking nuts. You would think that guy's already serving another life sentence. Why not just come clean and say, "I raped that girl"? Yeah, that's exactly right. 


Woody:Even convicts don't like rapists. 


Jim:That's right. 


Woody:Especially kid rapers and all that. 


Jim:That's right. So, long story short, he got $245,000 from the state of Louisiana. A federal wrongful conviction lawsuit was settled confidentially in 2011. So, he did get some money federally. Doesn't say how much. [crosstalk] Look, we hope y'all enjoyed these. 


Woody:We got to do more of these. 


Jim:Oh, yeah.


Woody:These cases you find, criminal mind is always fascinating to me, but this shit is--


Jim:Love it. 


Woody:Hey, we're all about the Gerald Bordelon getting executed for raping and killing Courtney LeBlanc. We're all about--[crosstalk] Almost every one of these, except for Rickey Johnson was on death row. 


Jim:Yeah, something. There's been actually, for those of you out there that are playing trivia games, there's been 11 people released from Angola alone from death row based off of either DNA evidence or strong evidence to force an exoneration. 


Woody:I get that why people are against it. They say, "Oh, you kill one wrong, it's too many, shut it down." You haven't sat across the table or looked at the dead bodies and shit that I've looked at and looked in the face of evil. But hey, I'm a champion, and would go on-- As you know Jim, after my law enforcement career, I went on and defended people that were innocent, that I believe they were innocent. So, it is what it is. We're not totally one sided, but hell or jail or freedom. 


Jim:That's it. 


Woody:It's another great episode. 


Jim:Yeah. We loved it. Thank you, patrons, couldn't do it without you. 




Jim:If you're not a patron member, go join Patreon. We may do some of these just for patron members. 


Woody:Patrons get commercial-free, early release episodes and locked up episodes, which we probably have more locked up for Bloody Angola than I have locked up for Real Life Real Crime, so a bunch of them. All different kinds of stories. So, y'all go check it out. You can go topatreon.comand type in "Bloody Angola."


Jim:Yep./bloodyangolapodcastwill pull you right to it. We appreciate it. We love each and every one of you. And until next time-


Woody:I'm Woody Overton.


Jim:And I'm Jim Chapman, your host of Bloody-




Jim:A podcast 142 years in the making. 


Woody:The Complete Story of America's Bloodiest Prison.


Jim and Woody:Peace. 


[Bloody Angola theme]