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DNA evidence leads to new trial for man jailed since 1991 on rape, murder

A new trial was ordered today for a man who has been in jail since 1991 on a conviction for a rape and murder recently cast into doubt by new DNA tests on the evidence.

Tony Wright Jr., in red, hugs a family member after DNA evidence led to a new trial being ordered for his father, Tony Wright, whose has been in jail since 1991. Credit: Sam Newhouse Tony Wright Jr., in red, hugs a family member after DNA evidence led to a new trial being ordered for his father, Tony Wright, whose has been in jail since 1991. Credit: Sam Newhouse

A new trial was ordered today for a man who has been in jail since 1991 on a conviction for a rape and murder, which new DNA tests recently cast into doubt.

Tony Wright, 43, was arrested in 1991 and charged with killing Louise Talley, 77, a Nicetown resident.

But he and his team of attorneys claim he was coerced into confessing and that evidence was planted at his home.

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"Tony is, right now, an innocent man. The prosecution now has to evaluate whether they can bring and prove a case where the evidence shows beyond a reasonable doubt that he's a guilty man," said defense attorney Sam Silver, of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP.

Judge D. Webster Keough ordered the new trial at a hearing today, but Wright will remain in custody awaiting the trial.

After Wright was arrested, he allegedly confessed to police, and Talley's bloody clothing was later found under his bed.

Wright later recanted his confession, testifying at his own trial that it was coerced by detectives. He also claimed officers had planted the bloody clothes in his home.

"He was not there. He was not involved," Silver said.

After nine years of work by the New York-based Innocence Project, two separate DNA tests on the bloody clothing determined that the DNA on the clothing belonged to Talley, not Wright.

"All the DNA evidence agrees ... the DNA [on the clothing] came not from Tony Wright but from the victim," said Rebecca Lacher, of Schnader. "That is extraordinary evidence that contradicts everything that was used to convict Tony in the first place."

Tests on the rape kit were linked to Ronnie Byrd, a Philadelphia man who also lived in the Nicetown area and who died last year in South Carolina.

The D.A.'s office still believes Wright is guilty and plans to prosecute, telling the Inquirer that the DNA match to Byrd only proves that Wright and Byrd were accomplices.

According to Peter Neufeld of the Innocence Project, Wright never knew Byrd.

"There's actually no evidence to ever suggest that our client ever met Ronnie Byrd, knows Ronnie Byrd, or knows anything about Ronnie Byrd. ... In fact, the prosecution has no evidence at all to connect our client to Ronnie Byrd, none. Our client does not know Ronnie Byrd," Neufeld said.

 
 
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