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Wrongly convicted man dies of Covid-19, nine years after he was exonerated

“The nurse that took care of him said he was positive and very friendly. She was honored to take care of him. She said most people are hateful but Damon was not,” David Thibodeaux, Damon’s brother, told CNN. “That’s my brother. He is a very loving person.”

Damon, 47, was wrongly convicted in Louisiana in 1997 and had been working as an Austin, Texas-based commercial truck driver since his prison release in 2012. He had rebuilt his life, according to his brother.

“He had no grudges, and should have been angry at the world, but he wasn’t angry at anyone. He prayed to forgive those that incarcerated him,” David said.

Damon was on the road, shortly after getting his second Moderna vaccine shot, when he started feeling symptoms of the virus, David said. The two brothers talked every day, and Damon called David and told him he wasn’t feeling well a few days into his drive at the beginning of August.

“As we were talking, I was like, ‘Man, it sounds like you’re congested,’ and he said that he wasn’t feeling good and he was exhausted. He thought that he was getting a sinus infection,” David said.

Damon was driving a truck to Jacksonville, Florida, from New York and told his brother he would get checked out after he made his delivery.

When Damon arrived in Florida, he called to tell David that he was headed to an emergency clinic. While he was waiting, David said, he passed out and fell on his face. Three or four days went by without any word from Damon.

“Then out of the blue, he called me barely able to talk. He’d go three or four words and then have to gasp for air, and he told me that he was in the hospital,” David said. “And he said he tested positive for Covid pneumonia.”

David said Damon went from bad to worse. His oxygen levels dropped and he was put on a ventilator because he couldn’t breathe on his own.

The pair texted every day and for about a week. Damon’s condition went up and down, according to David. His brother said he moved from the ventilator to oxygen and was clear of Covid but could not shake the pneumonia.

He started to get better and then the unexpected happened

Damon’s health started to improved little by little, according to David. The Tuesday before his death, he told David that if his oxygen reached 95 or better, the medical staff said they could take off the oxygen tube and see how he did on his own.

On September 2, Damon called David and was hopeful for his recovery.

“He said, ‘Bro, I’m ready to get out of here and come home,'” David said.

David told him he loved him, and he made plans to drive from Texas to pick Damon up.

Damon Thibodeaux walks out of prison.

Later that night, David got a call from the hospital. Damon’s lungs had collapsed, and his heart had failed, hospital staff told him.

“(The nurse) said, ‘We need permission to stop resuscitation,'” David said.

He said he couldn’t believe what was happening because he had just spoken to his brother hours before, and Damon had no pre-existing conditions. But after hearing they had been trying to start his heart for 45 minutes, David knew his brother was gone. He gave the hospital permission to stop.

“As hurt and painful as it is, it’s really inspiring (to see people touched by his story),” David said. “He’s at peace.”

Pam Wandzel, director of pro bono and community service at the law firm Fredrikson & Byron, got to know Damon from helping with his murder case. She told CNN he was grateful for his second chance at life.

“I’ve never met anyone who persevered so eloquently,” she said. “He took advantage of every moment of it. He really explored himself and the world around him, and he accomplished a lot in these nine years. He was a remarkable man.”

Wrongly convicted and was still seeking compensation

Thibodeaux was wrongly convicted in 1997 after he after falsely confessed to having raped and murdered his 14-year-old step-cousin.

He was among a number of people who were interviewed by police, and after some nine hours of interrogation he gave an “apparent confession” to the crime, according to the ACLU. Thibodeaux was convicted and spent 15 years on death row.

His court-ordered release came after DNA and other evidence exonerated him. Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick Jr. agreed with Thibodeaux’s lawyers that he had confessed to a crime he had not committed.

Even though his conviction was overturned nine years ago, David Thibodeaux said Damon had not received compensation for his years of wrongful imprisonment. David said he is going to continue litigation to obtain compensation for Damon’s son and grandchildren.

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