A Philly man who spent 25 years in jail for rape and murder charges and was exonerated by DNA evidence will receive the largest wrongful conviction settlement in Philadelphia history.
“Although I will never get over the 25 years I spent in prison for crimes I did not commit, or missing time with my mother before she died or with my son the whole time he was growing up, I am relieved that I can now get on with my life,” said Anthony 'Tony' Wright in a statement. “For the sake of my young grandchildren, I am encouraged that the City of Philadelphia will continue to take steps to make sure that what happened to me never happens to my grandchildren or any other child.”
Wright was ordered a new trial in 2014 after a DNA test of the rape kit preserved from the 1991 rape and murder of 77-year-old Nicetown resident Louise Talley tested positive for the DNA of Ronnie Byrd, a man who had been squatting in an abandoned home near the area at the time of the murder and died in 2013 while incarcerated in South Carolina.
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After being arrested, Wright confessed to the rape and murder of Talley. But he later recanted his confession, testifying at his own trial that it was coerced by detectives and that officers planted the bloody clothes in his home.
The Innocence Project fought for DNA tests of blood on the clothes, which only found the DNA of Talley, not Wright.
Wright remained in custody until a retrial in 2016, at which the Philly DA's office argued that he was Byrd's accomplice. But a jury acquitted Wright in less than an hour, freeing him after 25 years.
Mayor Jim Kenney said he was "pleased" with the settlement.
"This is a fair agreement for both parties," Kenney said in a statement on the settlement. "Mr. Wright has shown great dignity throughout this process, and I hope this resolution assists him and his family after what they have been through. This is a tragic case and part of the reason why this administration remains steadfast in its commitment to ensuring all people in our city receive fair treatment in our criminal justice system.”
Attorneys representing Wright called the case emblematic of racial unfairness in the justice system and asked for cases involving the officers who arrested Wright to be reviewed. While the settlement does not include an admission of liability by the city of Philadelphia, leaders said law enforcement has instituted reforms to prevent cases like this from happening again.
“The Philadelphia Police Department has seen tremendous reforms since the time of Mr. Wright’s incarceration," Commissioner Richard Ross said in a statement. "Today, the PPD is committed to protecting and upholding civil rights in our City, which is why we continually find ways to improve police strategies and techniques consistent with best practices. In addition to improving police practices, the PPD remains committed to conducting fair and thorough investigations of any crime. This is evident by the numerous advancements undertaken by the PPD in the area of forensic science, along with investigative and interrogation procedures, which includes the videotaping of interrogations."
The city will pay out the settlement in three installments over the next 14 months.