Connie Hawkins passed away yesterday. I considered writing a little something about him. I was a big fan of “The Hawk” growing up for two reasons. He was the most spectacular basketball player I’d ever seen up to that point in my young life and word on the street in New York was that he’d been unfairly treated during a basketball point-shaving scandal involving high school players from NYC. He was kicked off his college team and banned from playing in the NBA. I read his autobiography, “Foul”, in high school and enjoyed it. This guy played the game “above the rim” before the legendary “Dr. J” and changed the way professional basketball is played.
However, I saw another story that is significantly more important to talk about.
It’s about John Thompson.
No, not the famous college basketball coach who stalked the sidelines for decades at Georgetown University. This is a much different story…
On January 17, 1985, police kicked in the door of a house in Louisiana and arrested 22 year old John Thompson in front of his girlfriend, two sons and grandmother for car jacking and murder. He had a co-defendant in the murder case, a man named Kevin Freeman.
In a newspaper article, he had this to say about Freeman, who had implicated him in the murder case when questioned by police:
“A few weeks earlier he had sold me a ring and a gun. It turned out that the ring belonged to the (murder) victim and the gun was the murder weapon.”
So not only did this man involve him in the crime, he had dumped evidence in his possession.
“My picture was on the news and a man called in to report that I looked like someone who had recently tried to rob his children. Suddenly, I was accused of that crime, too. I was tried for the robbery first. My lawyers never knew there was blood evidence at the scene and I was convicted based on the victim’s identification.”
“After that, my lawyers thought it was best if I didn’t testify at the murder trial. And now that I officially had a history of violent crime because of the robbery conviction, the prosecutors used it to get the death penalty.”
He was sentenced to 49 years in prison for a car jacking he didn’t commit. Then, he was convicted of a murder he didn’t commit and given the death penalty.
He spent fourteen years in a maximum security prison in Louisiana infamous for housing Black Panther Party members, Albert Woodfox, Herman Wallace and Robert King – the Angola Three. Woodfox spent 43 years in solitary confinement and Wallace 41. Robert King was slightly luckier. He only spent 32 years at Angola, 29 in sollitary confinement. This is not an institution known for justice or compassion. It was named for the African nation from which black men had been abducted by slave traders in order to work on a plantation on the site.
Back to John Thompson…
In 1999, a mere thirty days before he was to be executed, a private investigator hired by Mr. Thompson’s attorneys happened upon an amazing piece of evidence that would change everything. It was microfiche containing a laboratory report on the blood type of the person who had committed the car jacking. It was dated two days before the trial began.
It did not match John Thompson’s blood type.
Then it was discovered that a former assistant prosecutor on the case had admitted in a death bed confession to deliberately hiding this important evidence from the defense attorneys.
Additional tests confirmed that the perpetrator’s blood type did not match Mr. Thompson’s blood type or DNA and the car jacking conviction was overturned.
In 2002, the murder conviction was overturned as well. He was retried a year later and acquitted. It took about a half hour in deliberation for the jury to find him not guilty. He was awarded $14 million in damages by a jury in 2007 which would work out to $1 million for each year on death row. That’s fourteen years inside a barren cell with no privacy, no window, no family, no walk in the woods – nothing but fear, anger and time to thing about his impending execution.
But apparently that was too good for John Thompson.
At least that’s what five U.S. Supreme Court justices believed in 2011 when they ruled he wasn’t entitled to the money that fellow citizens believed he deserved. One of those five justices in Clarence Thomas, the former Monsanto attorney notorious for committing sexual harassment, but who made it to the highest court in the land anyway.
Justice: 1) the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness or moral rightness:
to uphold the justice of a cause.
2) rightfulness or lawfulness, as of a claim or title; justness of ground or reason:
to complain with justice.
3) the moral principle determining just conduct.
Five prosecutors were complicit in violating John Thompson’s constitutional rights by withholding evidence that could clear him, but Clarence Thomas and four other conservative justices felt differently. They decided that the defense had failed to show that the prosecutor’s office demonstrated a systematic withholding of exculpatory evidence.
“I don’t care about the money,” he wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed in 2011. “I just want to know why the prosecutors who hid evidence, sent me to prison for something I didn’t do and nearly had me killed are not in jail themselves.
“There were no ethics charges against them, no criminal charges, no one was fired and now, according to the Supreme Court, no one can be sued.”
John Thompson died yesterday at the age of 55.