Thibodeaux echoed that sentiment, adding "I'm grateful to Mr. Connick and his people for studying my case and for their commitment to justice. I'm looking forward to life as a free man again, but I have great sympathy for the Champagne family that lost their daughter and sister. I sincerely hope that the person who murdered her is found and tried."
Crystal Champagne's family last saw her alive on the afternoon of July 19, 1996 when she left the family's Westwego Apartment for a Winn-Dixie at the nearby strip mall. After she did not return home when expected, her family, several friends, and law enforcement began a search for her that ended on the following evening with the discovery of her body along the levee in Bridge City.
That same evening, law enforcement began interrogating and interviewing potential witnesses, including Thibodeaux. After some nine hours of interrogation, he provided an apparent confession to raping and murdering the victim. That confession was virtually the sole basis for his conviction and death sentence in October 1997.
Thibodeaux's legal team included Denise LeBoeuf and Caroline Tillman of the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana (LeBoeuf is currently Director of the ACLU's Death Penalty Project and Tillman is now an attorney with the Capital Appeals Project in New Orleans); Barry Scheck and Vanessa Potkin of the Innocence Project; and Steve Kaplan and Richard H. Kyle, Jr., of the Fredrikson & Byron law firm in Minneapolis.
Assisted by several DNA and world-class forensic scientists, homicide and police interrogation methods expert Thomas Streed, PhD, and private investigators, they obtained evidence demonstrating that Thibodeaux was not the murderer, that the victim had not been raped, and that she had also not been murdered in the manner that Thibodeaux had described after some nine hours of interrogation.
In 2007, Thibodeaux's team approached Connick and his staff, and presented the then-known evidence of actual innocence to them. Both sides then began a cooperative process that was rigorous and transparent, including mutual exchanges of evidence and information. Connick was assisted primarily by Steve Wimberly, Esq., and Chief Investigator, Vince Lamia, who reviewed the evidence and actively participated in both the joint investigation and the District Attorney's own independent review of the case.
During the course of this joint investigation, the parties conducted multiple rounds of DNA and forensic evidence testing of the crime scene evidence and the other physical evidence and interviewed numerous fact witnesses. This additional evidence confirmed that the confession that Thibodeaux had given was false in every aspect. In addition, the joint investigation included a thorough examination of the reasons why Thibodeaux had falsely confessed. His lawyers have promised to make this information public at a later time.
The joint effort has also given rise to potential new leads and suspects. Because, however, the investigation into the murder is ongoing, this information cannot be disclosed at present.