That assertion is being made by a justice on the U.S. 9th Circuit of Appeals.
In an article published in the Michigan Law Review, Judge Stephen Reinhardt says Thomas Thompson was put to death in 1998 only because of a Supreme Court ruling that prevented lower courts from considering the merits of his case.
Thompson was convicted of the rape and murder of 20-year-old Ginger Fleischli in Laguna Beach in 1981. Fleischli was the girlfriend of Thompson’s roommate, David Leitch, who was convicted of second-degree murder in the case.
Judge Reinhardt says prosecutors gave conflicting versions of events at the two men’s trials – and that testimony in Leitch’s trial suggested that Thompson may have been innocent. There were also serious questions about the credibility of two jailhouse informants who testified against Thompson.
Reinhardt and other members of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Thompson’s conviction – but the U.S. Supreme Court reversed that decision on a technicality that had to do with a missed deadline.
The case was controversial at the time and death penalty opponents cited it in their unsuccessful 2012 initiative campaign to overturn the death penalty in California.
More than 150 people sentenced to death row have been exonerated since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in the early 1970s. It’s not known how many innocent people have been put to death. A recent study, however, found that 1 in 25 people sentenced to death in this country is innocent.
Orange County prosecutors have always insisted that Thompson was justly convicted.