Philadelphia middle school students learned last month about injustice firsthand: from a man who was freed after spending 18 years in Louisiana's death row. Released a year ago largely through the efforts over 15 years of his team of Philadelphia civil lawyers, John Thompson spent the one-year anniversary of his freedom with the students at Grover Washington Middle School in the Olney section of Philadelphia.
Michael L. Banks and J. Gordon Cooney Jr., lawyers at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, explained how Mr. Thompson won his freedom after narrowly escaping numerous state-ordered death warrants. His is a story of enduring hope and faith, and flaws, both personal and institutional.
Mr. Thompson's visit resulted from the year-long work/study project of one of the school's eighth grade classes. Students were introduced to the issue of wrongful criminal convictions by reading about Philadelphia's Lex Street Murders case, in which four young men faced the death penalty for a crime they did not commit. After reading about Mr. Thompson's acquittal after 18 years, the students first met with his Morgan Lewis attorneys and then invited Mr. Thompson to visit their school.
Mr. Thompson's story reads like a John Grisham novel: a poor, African-American man railroaded for the killing of a prominent white businessman by overzealous prosecutors who violate the law; then at the final hour, four eyewitnesses - initially hidden from defense lawyers - step forward years after the murder and testify - all brought about by two young civil lawyers at Morgan Lewis.