An exonerated man who served 44 years in prison for sex crimes against two white teenagers is suing accusers and cops who he alleges framed him

A Louisiana man whose conviction was vacated after serving 44 years in prison for a sex crime he did not commit is now suing the state legislators and other officials he says framed him.

Vincent Simmons, 70, of Mansura, Louisiana, is still adjusting to modern life and technologies like smartphones and smart televisions, none of which existed when he was jailed on May 9, 1977 for allegedly raping two teenage white girls.

“I’ve never met these people, ever,” exclaimed Simmons.

Simmons says that in the 1970s, Jim Crow-era sentiments still dictated much of life in his hometown, causing him several run-ins with the police.

“It’s racist, so I had a record because my mom had to come and get me out of jail for going into a white guy’s apartment because they said black people had to go out the back door,” Simmons recalled and led to one of his more memorable arrests as a youth when he refused to be treated as a second-class citizen.

On May 9, 1977, twin sisters Sharon and Karen Sanders were with their cousin, Keith Laborde, and that was the day Sharon was allegedly raped by a black man who they allegedly took away before he pulled out a gun, but according to a lawsuit filed by Simmons, it was Laborde who allegedly raped his own cousin.

Simmons, who was well known to police due to his frequent clashes as a youth, was the person blamed for the alleged sex crime.

“How did you get to Vincent? They knew who Vincent was, they saw him on the street, they kidnapped him,” said Simmons attorney Justin Bonus.

Bonus says the Laborde family was well connected in Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana, and used their power and influence to frame Simmons.

“The main actors are the Labordes, the main player Keith Laborde, the person who was allegedly thrown in the trunk, who we now know had sex with his cousin Karen, who admitted it on national television, John Laborde, Keith’s father , was the parish assessor, a very powerful person in the parish. The Laborde family time was a very powerful family,” said Bonus.

After he was arrested by police, Simmons said the police tried to force him to confess to the rape and even went so far as to shoot him at the police station, but Simmons steadfastly maintained his innocence.

“I died, they shot me in prison because I didn’t want to admit it, I didn’t want to confess a crime. They shot me and tried to kill me,” Simmons said.

The lawsuit alleges the twins were trained to frame Simmons, and during the suspect lineup, Simmons was found guilty as he was the only man brought in handcuffed.

“Robert Laborde, who they all claim isn’t related to Keith and John Laborde but we know, was the person who shot Vincent in the chest. He arrested Vincent on the spot and then and when Vincent didn’t confess, he also took part in the line-up,” Bonus said.

Simmons always maintained his innocence despite being charged with two counts of aggravated rape, and on July 28, 1977, Simmons was sentenced to two consecutive 50-year prison terms by a jury of eleven white men and one black woman. Over the years, Simmons says he has fought for his innocence by asking for his post-sentencing, which has been denied more than a dozen times.

“He fought, he fought from the day they brought him to Angola, he probably had the most pleas for reconviction than anyone I’ve seen,” Bonus said of Simmons’ tireless efforts to plead his innocence.

The tide began to turn in Simmons’ favor as the details of the alleged rape became clearer, as Keith Laborde, the twin girls’ cousin, started talking more and the twins’ stories themselves turned out to be contradictory, plus a medical exam proved Sharon Sanders was still a virgin, although she claimed to have been raped.

This exculpatory evidence was withheld from Simmons’ attorneys in what turned out to be a turning point in his case.

“The truth began to emerge 28 years ago when Vincent made his discovery,” Bonus said of the evidence that led to the Simmons case being reconsidered by the courts.

It was nearly two decades before Simmons could plead his innocence in court.

According to the lawsuit, Keith Laborde admitted that Simmons did not rape either sister and had consensual sex with one of them and locked the other in the trunk. On February 14, 2022, Judge Bill Bennett sided with Simmons and vacated his conviction. Upon his release from prison, Simmons says he can only thank God.

“I had faith in him,” Simmons said after being released from prison after 44 years.

Months after his release, Simmons vows some accountability and compensation for the years taken from him behind bars.

He wants the Laborde family and Avoyelles community officials – or in some cases their heirs – to be held accountable for the wrongful conviction. While Simmons’ lawsuit doesn’t currently list a specific dollar amount, he says he wants a hefty payment in damages.

“I want a billion [dollars]’ Simmons said of his hopeful compensatory and punitive damages payment.

“He needs to be compensated, he needs to be taken care of, they destroyed his life, they took him from his kids, his kids don’t know who he is, and not only that, but he’s also been branded a rapist,” Bonus said.

Atlanta Black Star has asked Avoyelles community officials for comment on the lawsuit, but has not received a response as of the date of this report. An exonerated man who served 44 years in prison for sex crimes against two white teenagers is suing accusers and cops who he alleges framed him

Dustin Huang

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