What happened to him through the next four months, while the media spread the murder story nationwide and he was the prime suspect in the case, played like an eerie sideshow to the more spectacular circus under way in California. America was stoned on the O.J. Simpson trial. On Feb. 12, the day after Bennie placed a game ball and his 1992 Pro Bowl watch in Devyn's casket and buried the boy with his mother, the Simpson jury toured the defendant's Los Angeles estate. Among many people in Orleans Parish and beyond, the perception of Thompson and the Morrison Road murders coalesced with that of Simpson and the Brentwood killings, both featuring a jealous, violent football player who, after threatening his wife's life, apparently went into a rage and killed her.
As a star defensive player at John McDonogh High in New Orleans, Thompson had been the most passionate head-cracker in the city's schools. "Bennie was so intense," recalls his coach, Warren Skinner. "He'd hit you and break you up. He was vicious." In his three years with the Saints, Thompson was known as a wild-eyed head-hunter, and New Orleans fans loved to watch him play. For those who knew him only from seeing him on the field, it was not a stretch to imagine him flying into a murderous rage. So he became a victim of his long-cultivated professional image.
For all his earnest protestations of innocence, Thompson was the lone suspect in the slayings almost from the start. Even though White's Glow & Shine had been under surveillance for three months by a federal narcotics task force, authorities did not link the murders to drugs. The police had no material evidence placing Thompson—or anyone else—at the crime scene, not so much as a fingerprint, but Thompson had those two weights around his neck that cops look for in suspects: motive and opportunity. Nor did Thompson make his own cause any easier. He got caught lying to the police, and then his faulty memory blew his alibi.
For months Thompson lived in dread of a telephone call from his lawyers telling him that a warrant had been issued for his arrest on three charges of first-degree murder. There is no bail for triple murder; only handcuffs and hard cots. For weeks, in an attempt to avoid the scrutiny of the press and the public, Thompson wore dark glasses and a brimmed hat and averted his eyes at stoplights and in airports. For weeks he had neither the chance nor the peace of mind to grieve. He stopped eating and dropped from 220 pounds to 200. He awakened regularly at 3 a.m. and lay staring at the ceiling until daybreak. His family and friends and both his lawyers, Rick Kelly and Rick Kohnke, watched as he became increasingly withdrawn, at times almost, catatonic, and feared he might take his own life. One day in March 1995 he thought about it.
"I don't think anything in the world can describe what I went through," Thompson says. "Devastation doesn't describe what I felt. I had just lost my son and ex-wife. The police were trying to arrest me for a crime I had nothing to do with and knew nothing about. Kill my own loving, three-year-old son? He was the most important thing in my life. It was like the earth fell on top of me. I was a walking zombie."
Thompson learned about the killings late on the day after they happened. A group of friends were waiting for him at his house as he pulled up in his red Mercedes. He had been out all afternoon. He remembers hearing a voice tell him, "Devyn's been killed, Bennie.... Tangie was killed, and the guy she was dating was killed.... It's been on the news, and the police are looking for you.... They think you might have done it."
"It didn't really hit me," Thompson says. "I jumped in a car with a friend. My first reaction was to go down there. I didn't believe it. I really didn't. It took me a long time to believe it. Sometimes I still don't."
They drove past 8130 Morrison, where there were police cars and reporters and TV camera crews, and Thompson asked his friend to stop. "I want to see my son," he said. His friend, an off-duty cop named Wilfred Carter, kept driving.
"You don't need to go over there to see that," Thompson remembers Carter saying. They went to the home of Lottie Guter, Thompson's older sister, who had raised and spoiled him, just as she had been helping to raise and spoil Devyn.
"Devyn's not dead, Lottie," Bennie told her. "He's strong like me. Stop crying!"