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Louisiana Exonerees Who Spent 27 Years Behind Bars Sue For Civil Rights Violations

Two Louisiana men who spent 27 years in state prison before a judge overturned their 1975 murder conviction are filing suit over civil rights violations. Gregory Bright and Earl Truvia have filed a lawsuit seeking $1 million in damages for each year they were wrongfully behind bars, accusing prosecutors under former District Attorney Harry Connick of withholding critical evidence from their case.

The jury deliberated for merely 12 minutes before returning guilty verdicts for Bright and Truvia. They never heard about the two other suspects in the murder case who had been questioned earlier by police, and they were not presented with the evidence about the criminal, drug and mental health history of the lone witness who testified against Bright and Truvia. Prosecutors failed to reveal that the woman who claimed she saw Bright and Truvia with the murder victim on the night he was killed was a paranoid schizophrenic who testified under a false name to hide her background.

The Times-Picayune reports that the two men are attempting to set a precedent with their civil rights case that will persuade the Supreme Court to rule more harshly against district attorney prosecutors in future cases:

Truvia and Bright are hoping ultimately that more cases of alleged prosecutorial misconduct will reverse the Supreme Court’s 5–4 ruling last year, voiding a $14 million judgment for former death row inmate John Thompson. In that case, the high court found that the district attorney’s office could not be held liable for failing to train prosecutors to turn over evidence based on a single case, and that Thompson had failed to prove a pattern.

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Attorneys for Truvia and Bright claim they’ve unearthed new evidence showing that the “custom, policy and practice (of Connick’s office) was to conceal exculpatory evidence.”

“If (the Supreme Court) would have had our evidence, that probably would have pushed Thompson over the edge,” said William Mitchell, one of the attorneys for the men.

Defense advocates from advocacy organizations like the Innocence Project argue that the Thompson decision relieves prosecutors of the full weight of their responsibility for their convictions. There have been 294 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the U.S. since 1989, and exonerations for death row convicts in particular may come too late. Countless cases of wrongful conviction spurred the Justice Department and the FBI to recently launch the largest-ever review of post-conviction criminal cases.