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Black Man Whose Conviction Was Overturned After 44 Years Sues Officials He Says Framed Him

Vincent Simmons has filed a lawsuit alleging that a local assessor and deputy worked together to protect a rapist in their family by deliberately framing him for the man's crime.

By Gina Tron
A Gavel and Handcuffs on a Desk

A Black man freed from prison after more than four decades behind bars has filed a lawsuit alleging that law enforcement framed him to protect a prominent white family.

A lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for Western Louisiana, alleges that Vincent Simmons, 70, was framed for attempted rape by the Avoyelles Parish prosecutors and sheriff’s office officials in the 1970s, NBC News reports.

The original conviction of Vincent Simmons, 70, was overturned in February when a judge ruled it unconstitutional because crucial evidence was withheld from the defense. Court documents obtained by Oxygen.com show that a wide variety of potentially exculpatory evidence — initial discovery documents, medical reports, a confession made to the girls' cousin by another man and lineup photos designed to incriminate Simmons — were withheld.

Simmons was convicted by an all-white jury for the attempted aggravated rape of 14-year-old twin sisters Sharon and Karen Sanders, who are white, in 1977. He was then sentenced to a century behind bars and served 44 years before his conviction was overturned.

The suit alleges that Keith Laborde — the son of the then-assessor of Avoyelles Parish — was the man who sexually abused one of the twins. It goes on to allege that a sheriff's deputy, Robert Laborde — a relative of both Keith Laborde and the twins — then arrested Simmons, who he allegedly knew to be innocent, without probable cause.

"Robert Laborde processed Simmons, pressured Simmons to confess and physically assaulted and indeed shot Simmons when he refused to admit guilt," the suit claims, according to NBC News.

It goes on to allege that "two of the defendants in this case, with powerful positions as parish assessor and deputy sheriff, were named Laborde, and with family honor at stake, they collaborated under color of law with their fellow officers to ensure that Simmons was put away.”

One of the twins, Karen Sanders, now 59, maintained in a CBS News interview earlier this year that Simmons is guilty and said she would testify against him again. The women, however, later told ABC News that they didn't need to pursue a new trial in the case, after prosecutors noted that, even if the state could secure another conviction, he would likely receive a 40-year sentence and had served 44.

NBC News reports that one of the girls had told police in the 1970s that “all blacks look alike to me so that I would know him if I ever saw him.”

"This was rural Louisiana in a different time, not long after Jim Crow,” the suit states. The Parish of Avoyelles was still segregated in all but name, and an accusation that a Black man had raped two teenage white girls triggered the deep-seated 'rape myth' which was foundational to Jim Crow culture. Once the accusation was made, a conviction had to be secured, no matter the cost — and one was."

Simmons is seeking both unspecified damages and a jury trial.

After Simmons was released, his attorney Justin Bonus told Oxygen.com that “it’s an embarrassment to the criminal justice system that it took this long to get Vincent to where he was at."

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