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Wrongly convicted man freed from death row dies of COVID-19

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Damon Thibodeaux, a death row exoneree from Louisiana released from death row in 2012 after 15 years of prison, speaks to students on September 19, 2014 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “Witness to Innocence” is an abolitionist organization that fights for the exonerees, helping them to readjust to real life and to get a federal compensation. (William Edwards/AFP via Getty Images)

MINNEAPOLIS (NEXSTAR) — A man who escaped death row in Louisiana in 2012 after he was exonerated by DNA evidence for a murder he didn’t commit has died of COVID-19.

The Minneapolis lawyers who worked to free Damon Thibodeaux call his death earlier this month unfair for someone who never complained about a life that included abuse at the hands of family members.

The 47-year-Thibodeaux, who eventually settled with his family in Texas, contracted the coronavirus in August, a few days after getting his first vaccine shot. He died on Sept. 2.

Thibodeaux was 22 and working as a deckhand in 1996 when he was arrested for strangling his 14-year-old step-cousin Crystal Champagne to death.

He was subjected to a grueling, nine-hour interrogation that forced him to confess to the murder, as well as to beating and sexually assaulting the teenager, according to The Innocence Project. Less than an hour of the interrogation was recorded.

He moved to Minnesota after he was cleared of the crime in 2012.

“The Innocence Project mourns the loss of Damon Thibodeaux, an incredibly kind and gentle person, who spent 16 years wrongly imprisoned in Louisiana,” The Innocence Project said in a statement. “He was the 142nd person exonerated from death row and was never compensated for his lost freedom.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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