A man convicted 25 years ago of a brutal rape and murder, is now free thanks to DNA evidence and 12 new jurors.
Anthony Wright, who was 20 at the time of his arrest, was acquitted of all charges in a retrial granted due to DNA evidence. Wright, now 44, walked through the prison gates at 5:50 p.m. on Tuesday. He was greeted by about 15 relatives including his father, David Parker, his 28-year-old son Anthony Jr. and his grandchild, Romera Wright, 1.
"I can't even put it into words right now, man," Wright said, Philly.com reported. "It's unbelievable. It's the greatest day of my life."
After hearing nine days of testimony, the jurors took 90 minutes before returning to the Common Pleas Court with a verdict of “not guilty” to charges of murder, rape, burglary and robbery.
On Oct. 19, 1991, Wright’s 77-year-old Nicetown neighbor Louise Talley was found naked and bloody in her home. The next day, Wright, a seventh-grade dropout, was taken into custody. Two years later, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The evidence used in the original trial was a signed confession that Wright claims was coerced, bloody clothing found under his bed and eyewitness testimony that put Wright at the scene of the crime. Since then, two of the witnesses died and three recanted. Wright claimed homicide detectives Manuel Santiago and Martin Devlin planted the bloody clothes.
The DNA was found to belong to Ronnie Byrd – no relation to the judge who presided over the retrial – “a former crack addict” who died at the age of 62 in a South Carolina prison, Philly.com reported.
“The District Attorney's Office stands by its decision to retry Anthony Wright, based on the totality of the evidence," Cameron Kline, spokesman for the District Attorney's Office, told Philly.com. "The verdict only shows that the jury did not find that his guilt was proven beyond a reasonable doubt."
One of Wright’s attorneys and co-director of the Innocence Project of New York, Peter Neufeld, called for an investigation of all young black men collared by the now-retired officers who worked on Wright’s case in 1991.
"After the DNA results were known, we have three and a half years where the District Attorney's Office did nothing to reinvestigate this case or find out who Ronnie Byrd was," Neufeld said. "It's absolutely unconscionable and unacceptable."
"I'm angry," jury forewoman Grace Greco said, Philly.com reported. "The evidence was there that he did not commit this crime. The city should never have brought this case. I'm just happy that today's verdict will let Tony move on with the rest of his life."
The prosecution stands by the verdict handed down by the original jury in 1993, saying that Wright could have committed the crime with Byrd.
“Nobody is saying Ronnie Byrd's DNA isn't in her," Assistant District Attorneys Bridget Kirn said in her closing argument. “But that must be because Byrd took part in the crime.”