Not Worthy of Being a Dad

Name: Damon Thibodeaux

Name: Damon Thibodeaux

Born: 1974

Race: Caucasian

State: Louisiana

Convicted: 1997

Exonerated: 2012 

Sentence: Death

Damon felt happy. He finally had some money after drifting for years and he was eager to spend some of it to be with what he cherished the most, family.

After cashing his first work check, he went to purchase some Rollerblades so he could go skating with his step-cousin Crystal and her 12-year-old sister, Samantha.

Louisiana’s heat in July was unbearable and they quit the skating early. Instead, they went to Crystal and Samantha’s parents’ house to have a few cold drinks. But Crystal was not just thirsty, she was also hungry.

Crystal was slowly taking her first steps toward adulthood and her family would let her move freely around the local community with their blessing.

Crystal was a happy and reliable teenager who could always be trusted, but as she was walking to the Winn-Dixie supermarket on this hot, Friday afternoon to get Chinese noodles, she took one step too many.

“I need to get a cop to my house. My 14-year-old daughter is missing. She has been gone for the last two and a half hours and we can’t find her nowhere,” Crystal’s mom said in an anxious voice when she called 911 begging for help.

Throughout the night, the family searched for Crystal together with officers from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office. The missing-person case soon became a murder investigation when Crystal’s body was found in a wooded area along the banks of the Mississippi River five miles from her home in Westwego, Louisiana.

The step-cousin Damon Thibodeaux was devastated by the news. Just before leaving the house, Crystal had asked him to give her a ride to the mall, but the 22-year-old man had refused as he was too busy mending a watch.

His refusal would come back to haunt him for decades. Had he only joined Crystal on that July day in 1996, she might still be alive.

After searching for hours, Damon went back to his mom’s house. Damon was so focused on finding his cousin that he did not allow himself to sleep or eat until she was found. Now he laid exhausted in his bed while a thousand thoughts ran through his mind.

Damon could not believe how happiness turned to sadness in a heartbeat. He just moved back to New Orleans a few weeks earlier and secured a job with the Callie Towing Company working as a deckhand on Mississippi River barges. For the first time in a long time, things were moving in the right direction. He was living close to his mother and family after spending some time in Texas. But the positive directions he was heading toward in life shattered when Crystal was finally found, and police came knocking on the door.

First, the officers were doing a routine missing-persons interview with Damon, but eight minutes after the interview began, it turned into a homicide interrogation.

“Some people just walked over here a minute ago and said they found a little girl dead by the river,” a police officer at the crime scene transmitted to the detectives just as they began questioning Damon.

Crystal’s body was found by a friend of the Champagne family. When he discovered Crystal lying lifeless on the ground, maggots and ants had already invaded her body and a piece of red extension cord was wrapped around her neck. Her underwear was pulled down around her ankles and her bra pulled up to her shoulders. It looked as though she was sexually assaulted, and the detectives wanted to know if Damon was involved in the crime.

“They brought me down to the station where they placed me in a small chair. The moment I sat down, they began beating me mentally. I was threatened, I was manipulated, and they went on attacking me for hours. They were questioning me in a brutal way and they were gonna do whatever it took to get a confession out of me. It felt like torture,” Damon says.

He denied any involvement and when the detectives asked him to take a polygraph, he agreed without hesitation. Afterward, detectives interrogated him for more than nine hours though only 54 minutes were recorded on tape. The investigators were hard on him. By the time they were done, he had not slept or eaten for almost two days. Damon cracked the minute he was informed that he had failed the polygraph.