A man is exonerated and free after 15 years on death row

Damon Thibodeaux, 38, spent 15 years on Louisiana’s death row for a murder he did not commit was released Friday from prison in an exoneration brought about by the Innocence Project.

Thibodeaux was convicted of killing his 14-year-old relative, Crystal Champagne, after falsely confessing to having raped and murdered her. Thibodeaux was among a number of people who were interviewed by police subsequent to the death of the 14-year-old girl. After some nine hours of interrogation, he provided authorities with a confession and was later sentenced to death in October 1997.

About ten years after his sentence, Thibodeaux’s legal team presented evidence of false confession and DNA to the district attorney which showed Thibodeaux’s innocence and an investigation began. The investigation wound up involving hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of DNA testing, forensic evidence and interviews. It was later confirmed that Thibodeaux’s confession was false in every significant aspect. District Attorney Paul Connick Jr. agreed with Thibodeaux’s lawyers that he had confessed to something he did not do.

According to CNN, Thibodeaux described walking out of the Louisiana State Penitentiary as “surreal.” “It’s not something you can prepare yourself for, because you’ve been living in those conditions for so long,” he said.