Man who spent 44 years in prison alleges in lawsuit that 1977 conviction was part of a cover-up
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A Black man who was freed from prison earlier this year after spending over four decades behind bars accused officials in a Louisiana parish in the 1970s of falsely arresting and convicting him to cover up the molestation of a White teenage girl. Vincent Simmons, now 70, made the accusation in a civil rights lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court.

Simmons was convicted of two counts of attempted aggravated rape of twin teenage sisters in 1977 and given a 100-year prison sentence. In February, Judge Bill Bennett determined Simmons didn’t receive a fair trial. While Bennett expressed “no opinion” on Simmons’ guilt or innocence, he threw out Simmons’ conviction. Even though prosecutors believe Simmons is guilty, they declined to retry the case after Simmons’ lengthy incarceration, and Simmons was released from prison.

Simmons is seeking an unspecified amount in damages, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. In the lawsuit, Simmons accused officials who worked for Avoyelles Parish in the ’70s, including prosecutors and sheriff’s office officials, of fabricating evidence against him and suppressing other evidence that could have prevented his conviction.

The original district attorney on the case, Eddie Knoll, has maintained Simmons was properly convicted. “I did not hide or deny Simmons any evidence, nor did I prosecute him because of bias,” Knoll said in a sworn affidavit in January.

In an interview with CBS’ “48 Hours” broadcast in May, Bennett said the case went to trial so quickly that prosecutors and the defense didn’t have all of the evidence. “I don’t believe anybody intentionally hid anything. … It’s just the way it happened because it was fast,” he told “CBS Mornings” lead national correspondent David Begnaud.

Vincent Simmons freed after 44 years in prison


Simmons’ conviction stems from accusations made by twin sisters Karen and Sharon Sanders. In May 1977, Simmons, who is Black, was accused of raping the sisters, who are White and were 14 at the time. They alleged that their cousin, Keith Laborde, had given Simmons a ride home and had locked Laborde in the trunk of the car while he raped the sisters.

In his complaint, Simmons alleges Karen Sanders had been molested by Laborde, whose father, John Laborde, held the position of parish assessor.

In an interview broadcast in February, Karen Sanders told Begnaud she had consensual sex with Keith Laborde when she was about 9 or 10. Keith Laborde has denied having sex with Karen Sanders.

In a telephone call with Begnaud, Keith Laborde said that he and Karen Sanders just “played around like children,” which Laborde said had nothing to do with Simmons, who Laborde still believes is guilty.

The sisters told Begnaud they were standing by their accusations against Simmons. “He told us he was going to kill us. And we believed every word of it,” Karen Sanders said.

Man convicted of attempted rape fights for new trial as victims speak


Simmons was arrested by Deputy Sheriff Robert Laborde, who, according to the complaint, is believed to be related to Keith Laborde and the Sanders sisters. Simmons alleges he was arrested without probable cause.

In the lawsuit, Simmons alleges a report of a medical examination that found that Sharon Sanders’ hymen was still intact following the alleged incident wasn’t provided to his lawyers at the time of his trial.

Simmons also alleges that officials “systemically coached” the Sanders sisters and Keith Laborde “to identify Simmons by name and to get their stories straight about when and how the alleged rapes had happened.”

According to the complaint, Simmons was the only person who was handcuffed in a police lineup, which included a White man. The Sanders sisters told Begnaud that Simmons wasn’t in handcuffs when they picked him, and Knoll said in the January affidavit that a photo of Simmons in handcuffs was taken after he was selected in the lineup.

“I do have an independent recollection of immediately calling Sheriff F.O. Didier, now deceased, for an explanation when I viewed the photograph showing Simmons in shackles,” Knoll said in the affidavit. “Sheriff Didier reported to me that the photograph was taken after the lineup was completed.”

Simmons is demanding a jury trial.

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