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Black man freed from prison after 44 years says in lawsuit he was framed by officials for attempted rape

Vincent Simmons alleges he was convicted as part of a coverup for a white man who had connections with police.
Vincent Simmons
Vincent Simmons arrives at the Avoyelles Parish Courthouse in Marksville, La., on Nov. 8, 2017.KALB

A Black man who was freed from prison this year after 44 years behind bars for attempted rapes he says he didn't commit has sued the officials who helped get him convicted, alleging a cover-up that ended up with him being framed.

Vincent Simmons' conviction was overturned in February by a judge who said Simmons, 70, didn’t get a fair trial because jurors never heard some evidence in his favor, news outlets reported.

A jury of 11 white men and a Black woman convicted Simmons unanimously in 1977 of attempted aggravated rape against 14-year-old white twin sisters. He was sentenced to back-to-back 50-year prison terms.

The one-day trial took place 60 days after the alleged assault.

In the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for Western Louisiana, Simmons alleged that Avoyelles Parish prosecutors and sheriff’s office officials framed him to cover for a prominent white family in the area.

The suit alleges that Keith Laborde, a cousin of the twins, had sexually molested one of them. Laborde was the son of John Laborde, the assessor of Avoyelles Parish.

Robert Laborde, a relative of the Labordes and the twins, was a sheriff's deputy at the time and arrested Simmons "'on view,' without probable cause, and with knowledge of his innocence," the suit said.

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

"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," the suit added.

The twins did not immediately report a rape; once they did, a lineup was ordered. Simmons was the only man placed in handcuffs in the lineup, and the girls identified him as their rapist, the suit said.

Key evidence was omitted during the trial, including the fact that one of the twins' hymens was intact and uninjured, the suit said.

The twins' testimony originally didn't line up, but it was identical during the trial, the suit said, alleging that they had been "coached."

Simmons also had an alibi. He said he was at a bar at the time of the alleged rape. But a police officer testified that he had been called to the bar the day before and saw Simmons, the suit said. It added that there was no report of the call to police.

It has also been reported that one girl’s police interview includes, crossed out but still legible, the self-contradictory “all blacks (sic) 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 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," the suit said. "Once the accusation was made, a conviction had to be secured, no matter the cost — and one was."

Simmons is seeking unspecified damages and a jury trial.

Keith Laborde didn’t immediately respond to a voicemail seeking comment Thursday. His father, John Laborde, is deceased. Robert Laborde is also deceased.

The Avoyelles Parish Sheriff's Office and the prosecutor’s office also didn’t respond to requests for comment Thursday.

When Simmons' conviction was overturned, District Attorney Charles Riddle said that if he were retried and convicted, 40 years likely would be the maximum sentence. “That would be what we would recommend,” he said.

"This is not a declaration of innocence at all. We attempted to free him months ago because he has served enough time,” Riddle said.

Simmons' attorney Justin Bonus disagreed.

"The bottom line is that Vincent Simmons is innocent," he told NBC News. "The discovery that they withheld for so long proves it."