Minneapolis law firm, Innocence Project, help man off death row - KMSP-TV

Minneapolis law firm, Innocence Project, help man off death row

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MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) -

A man wrongly convicted of a murder is now living in the Twin Cities trying to reclaim his life. Damon Thibodeaux spent 15 years on death row before the efforts of a local law firm and the Innocence Project helped set him free.

"I don't have chains on, I don't have a cell in front of me," Thibodeaux said.

Thibodeaux, 39, appreciates the little things in life like the snow on the ground and fresh air, but says he'll never get back those 15 lost years on Louisiana's death row. Missing major milestones like his son's graduation and the birth of his grandchild.

"I lost being there for him, being a part of his life," he added.

However, Thibodeaux is a free man now living in the Whittier neighborhood in south Minneapolis, thankful for another chance all because a handful of people believed in his innocence.

In 1997, Thibodeaux was convicted of raping and killing his 14-year-old step-cousin Crystal Champagne in a small Louisiana town, but two years later, Minneapolis-based law firm Fredrickson and Byron started to re-examine the case.

Eventually, the Innocence Project, a nonprofit dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people, came on board to help. Experts determined Thibodeaux's confession to this rape and murder was false and DNA tests proved he was innocent. The community still doesn't know who did it.

Since Thibodeaux's release from prison in 2012, he's come to the realization society is a bit different.

"Facebook is fine, but there are some things people should keep to themselves," he said.

Advocates at Fredrickson and Byron who initially took up his cause have also been helping him transition here in the Twin Cities, where he's received his GED and now drives trucks for a living. Thibodeaux says he hopes other innocent people on death row get the same opportunity.

"The one thing that I do believe in is that they should all have their cases completely looked at not just half-way," he said.

According to the Innocence Project, there have been 314 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States. The average length of time served by those exonerated is 13.5 years.

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