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Schnader Attorneys Help Overturn 22-Year-Old Philadelphia Murder Conviction via DNA Testing

09/22/2014

PHILADELPHIA – On September 22, 2014, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP attorneys helped to secure an overturned conviction and new trial on behalf of Anthony Wright, who served 22 years for rape and murder, which new DNA testing reveals was committed by another man.

“We are pleased the District Attorney has agreed that Mr. Wright is entitled to a new trial,” said co-counsel for Mr. Wright, Samuel Silver, Schnader partner and chair of the firm's Litigation Department. “Given the proof of innocence that the DNA testing has provided, we’re hopeful that that the District Attorney’s office will now decide that no retrial is necessary and finally put an end to this miscarriage of justice.”  

In 1993, Mr. Wright was convicted of the rape and murder of 77-year-old North Philadelphia resident Louise Talley. Police claimed that Mr. Wright voluntarily gave a signed confession to the crime after only fourteen minutes in custody. Mr. Wright, who was just 20 when he was arrested, has always maintained his innocence and testified that he only signed the alleged confession, which the police wrote out, after the interrogating detectives threatened him with bodily harm.

At the time of his conviction, Mr. Wright narrowly escaped the death penalty by a 7 to 5 vote of the jury. 

In 2003, Mr. Wright obtained the help of the Innocence Project, a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.

“The DNA evidence conclusively excludes Tony Wright as the source of all of the critical evidence from the scene, including sperm found inside this elderly victim,” said Peter Neufeld, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “By identifying another man as the real perpetrator —someone with no connection to Tony, and whom none of the prosecution’s witnesses ever mentioned in their statements—the DNA proves that the entire case against Tony was based on false evidence.”

Ronnie Byrd, a then 39-year-old convicted felon, was the actual perpetrator. His semen was identified by DNA testing on the vaginal and rectal swabs collected from the victim at autopsy. Mr. Byrd died in South Carolina in early 2013 and was never able to be questioned about the crime.  

After securing the confession, police also claimed that they recovered the bloody clothes Mr. Wright wore the night of the crime from Mr. Wright’s home. However, recent DNA testing reveals that the clothes were not worn by Mr. Wright and instead were the victim’s.

For more than five years, the former Philadelphia District Attorney objected to the testing until the case eventually went to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled that denial of the DNA testing based on the existence of Mr. Wright’s confession was improper. The Court held that a confession deemed to be voluntary and admissible at trial does not mean it is true, recognizing the “countless situations where persons confess to crimes of which they are innocent, either out of desire to cover up for the guilty person or because of a psychological urge to do so.” The case was then remanded and the current District Attorney agreed to permit the testing. That DNA testing supports Mr. Wright’s innocence and resulted in the agreement to vacate the conviction entered in 1993.

In addition to Mr. Silver and Mr. Neufeld, Mr. Wright is represented by Nina Morrison of the Innocence Project and Rebecca Lacher of Schnader.

Read more about the case here:

Rolling Stone: Why Is This Man Still in Jail?

The Philadelphia Daily News: Man to get new trial after 22 years behind bars

CBS 3 Philadelphia: Family Of Convicted Murderer Hopeful New DNA Evidence Will Prove His Innocence

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Judge orders new trial in 1991 murder