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Anthony Wright

Other Philadelphia Cases
Anthony Wright leaves prison with his lawyers (Photo by Michael Bryant/AP)
On October 19, 1991, police discovered the body of 77-year-old Louise Talley on the second floor of her home in the Nicetown neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Talley had been raped and stabbed to death and her home was looted.

Police said that someone approached them on the street outside the house and reported that 20-year-old Anthony Wright was involved in the crime and that he was staying at a home on nearby Bott Street with someone named Saint James. Police went to the home, which was located about 300 feet from Talley’s residence, and found Roland Saint James and his roommate, John Richardson.

After James admitted to police that he and Richardson rented rooms in the residence to people who smoked crack cocaine and helped procure crack for them, he was taken in handcuffs to a police station. There, he was advised he was the “primary suspect” in the murder because police found a television belonging to Talley in the house.

Subsequently, James signed a statement saying that Wright told him he had stabbed a woman and that Wright brought in the television so that James could sell it for him.

Richardson, after being at the station for nearly 24 hours, signed a statement saying that Wright asked him to be a lookout when he went to Talley’s house, but that Richardson refused because he knew the woman and he did not break into houses.

On October 20, 1991, police went to Wright’s home and he voluntarily went with them to the police station. Detectives said that within two hours, Wright signed a nine-page typed statement admitting that he raped and killed Talley after going to her house to rob her of money and valuables so he could buy crack cocaine. The statement said that Wright was wearing a Chicago Bulls sweatshirt, jeans and Fila shoes and that those items were still in his bedroom.

At that time, Wright was charged with capital murder, rape, robbery, burglary, theft and weapons violations.

The detectives then obtained a search warrant and returned to Wright’s home where they later said they discovered the bloodstained clothing in Wright’s room.

Wright went to trial in May 1993 in Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. James and Richardson testified and implicated Wright in the murder. Two teenaged youths, Greg Alston and Shawn Nixon, also testified and said they were on the street with a third friend, Antonio Johnson, when they saw Wright go into Talley’s home. Johnson did not testify, but police said he gave a statement concurring with Alston and Nixon.

The detectives testified that they found the bloody clothing in Wright’s room. A crime laboratory analyst testified that he found blood on the sweatshirt and jeans that was the same blood type as Talley’s. The analyst said semen was identified on the jeans and it could have come from Wright.

Wright’s mother, Myrtle Martin, testified that when the detectives left her home after searching Wright’s room, they only took a white jumpsuit which Wright wore to work and did not take a Chicago Bulls sweatshirt, jeans or shoes. Martin said her son did not own such clothing items.

Wright testified and denied ever being in Talley’s house, let alone raping or killing her. He said he did not know James, Richardson or any of the three teenagers and had not seen any of them before.

Wright told the jury that on the night of October 18, 1991, he worked all day and returned about 5 p.m., then went to a club around 11 p.m. and returned home at 4 a.m. on October 19. He said he slept until 10 a.m. and went shopping with some friends and then attended a concert. He denied the clothing was his and said the shoes were size 11 and he wore size 9½ and that he wore jeans with a 38-inch waist—two sizes larger than the jeans police said they recovered from his room.

Wright said the confession was false and that he signed the statement only after detectives threatened to physically assault him if he continued to refuse to do so.

On June 8, 1993, the jury convicted Wright of capital murder, rape, theft, burglary, robbery and weapons violations. The jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on imposing the death penalty, voting 7-5 in favor of death. With no unanimous verdict, Wright was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In 2005, Wright sought DNA testing of the evidence, but in 2006, a judge denied the motion, citing Wright’s confession. Wright appealed and the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld the ruling. In 2011, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court set side the decision and remanded the case back to the trial court, ruling that a confession is not a bar to DNA testing.

In 2013, DNA tests performed on the clothing revealed Talley’s DNA inside the sweatshirt and jeans, an indication that the clothing had been worn by Talley and was in fact her clothing—not Wright’s. The test finding suggested that the detectives had falsely claimed the clothing was found in Wright’s room.

Moreover, DNA testing of the rape kit revealed the DNA profile of Ronnie Byrd, a Philadelphia crack dealer who in 1991 lived in the same neighborhood as Talley. Byrd died in a South Carolina prison in 2013 at age 62.

In March 2014, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office agreed to vacate Wright’s conviction. However, the prosecution claimed—for the first time—that Wright committed the crime with Byrd.

Wright went to trial a second time in August 2016. James and Richardson were dead, so their testimony from Wright’s 1993 trial was read to the jury.

Nixon and Alston, who testified at Wright’s original trial that they were standing on the street with a friend, Antonio Johnson, and saw Wright go into Talley’s house, testified and said their testimony in 1993 was false and been coerced by police. Johnson also testified and said that he did not see Wright on the street when he was with Nixon and Alston.

The prosecution attempted to impeach Nixon and Alston with their testimony from 1993 and also presented Wright’s confession. The detectives insisted they found the bloody clothing in Wright’s bedroom and maintained that Wright voluntarily confessed.

Represented by Innocence Project lawyers, Wright again testified on his own behalf and denied any involvement in the crime. Wright testified that after three or four hours of accusations that he repeatedly denied, he was handcuffed to a chair. One detective held his neck while the other put his face so close that their noses touched. One detective said he would “poke his eye out” and sexually assault him, Wright testified.

The jury also was presented with the DNA test results linking Byrd to the crime as well as evidence that Byrd was nearly twice as old as Wright at the time of the crime, that he was a crack cocaine addict friendly with James and Richardson and that he and Wright did not know each other.

On August 23, 2016, the jury acquitted Wright and he was released. In September 2016, Wright filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia police department. In June 2018, the lawsuit was settled for $9.85 million.

In August 2018, Innocence Project lawyers filed a complaint against the prosecutor in the retrial, Bridget Kirn, accusing her of knowingly allowing retired homicide detectives Manuel Santiago and Frank Jastrzembski to testify falsely. The complaint, filed with the Disciplinary Board of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, said that during the retrial, the detectives said they knew very little about the post-conviction DNA testing and results, but that subsequently, they said in sworn depositions in the civil lawsuit that Kirn had briefed them extensively about the DNA evidence prior to the retrial./div>

"It is difficult to conceive of a more textbook violation...than when an attorney for the commonwealth fails to correct a pivotal law enforcement witness's false denial of knowledge about facts that she herself provided to the witness in their pretrial preparation session," the complaint said. "Here, Ms. Kirn stood mute while not one, but two, of the commonwealth's most critical witnesses perjured themselves in this fashion. And she did so as an experienced homicide prosecutor, serving as lead counsel for the commonwealth in a case where the defendant faced mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted."

Kirn was among 31 employees of the Philadelphia District Attorney's office who were terminated in January 2018 after Larry Krasner was elected District Attorney.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 8/26/2016
Last Updated: 8/23/2018
State:Pennsylvania
County:Philadelphia
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Rape, Robbery, Burglary/Unlawful Entry, Theft, Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:1991
Convicted:1993
Exonerated:2016
Sentence:Life without parole
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:20
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes