There is no dispute. The DNA found in the vagina of the victim, 77-year-old Louise Talley, was that of Ronnie Byrd, a crackhead who hung out at a house next door in South Philly. Case solved? Nope. At least, not for Anthony Wright, who already spent 23 years in prison for the crime.
Nevertheless, on Monday Wright will again be tried in her murder.
This time, the District Attorney’s Office has a different theory for what happened: Wright didn’t act alone. But he was in the home when Byrd assaulted Talley, and when she was stabbed 10 times.
For 23 years, the prosecution was certain, beyond a reasonable doubt, that this was a one-man crime. Then the Innocence Project came along with its DNA, screwing it all up. So poof, now it’s a two-man crime. Nothing to see here. Move along.
How did they get a conviction on Wright in the first place? Solid evidence, of course.
Detectives testified that Wright was brought in for questioning at 1:45 p.m. on Oct. 20, 1991, the day after Talley’s body was found. The then-20-year-old Wright waived his Miranda rights at 2:01 p.m., and gave a complete statement 14 minutes later.
Wright, however, recanted the confession even before trial, contending he was threatened and forced to initial the nine-page statement without reading it. The defense memo states Wright didn’t finish his statement until about 6 p.m. – a four-hour lag.
Back then, false confessions never happened. They were a defense fantasy, the sort of smoke and mirrors argument that was used to obscure the fact that no one would ever confess to a crime they didn’t commit. Who would do such a thing? And there was more.
Detectives testified that Wright told them he hid in his bedroom the clothes he had worn when he killed Talley.
Based on Wright’s alleged statement, detectives got a search warrant for his mother’s house and testified they found the bloodstained clothing: a black Chicago Bulls sweatshirt, a pair of blue jeans with black suede patches, and black Fila sneakers.
Wright maintained that the clothing was not his and he never told detectives that he had hidden them. Wright’s mother, who was present for the search, said she did not see police remove the clothing from the house and that they did not give her a property receipt.
But why would the cops lie? Cops have no reason to lie. They only want to nab the killer, so there’s no reason for them to lie.
According to defense filings, the Police Department’s own experts have since confirmed DNA findings that the bloody clothing was not worn by Wright, but by the victim.
Damn that DNA again. But if it was Ronnie Byrd whose DNA was found in the victim, and the victim’s DNA on the bloody clothing that was mysteriously found somewhere, and now that it’s beyond question that false confessions happen, as they’re psychologically manipulated out of suspects over prolonged interrogation, what to do about the fact that Anthony Wright spent 23 years in prison?
Easy. Reject the theory of prosecution upon which the case was tried, the conviction obtained, and go for a do-over.
“They advanced one theory for decades, discovered that it’s undercut by the science, and now they’re advancing a different theory, which is totally at odds with the first and doesn’t make much sense anyway,” [Bradley Bridge, who represented Wright at a youth] said. “The prosecutor is stretching to come up with a theory of this case that isn’t supported by the evidence.”
In fact, the DA’s office was so hell-bent on keeping Wright in prison that it fought to prevent DNA testing from even taking place originally.
Notably, the “confession” obtained from Wright never mentions the existence of a second guy, Byrd, and states that he raped Talley. Of course, it could be that Byrd was such a dear friend that Wright covered him by taking the weight, even though Wright says he has no clue who Byrd is. But then, why would the cops target Wright if he wasn’t the bad dude?
Three years before Talley’s murder, Wright broke Officer Bohndan Fylystyn’s nose and jaw with a piece of lumber, also knocking out several teeth.
Despite calls to try Wright as an adult for the assault, Bridge (his public defender) managed to keep his case in juvenile court and secured for his client a sentence that colleagues of Fylystyn no doubt considered too lenient: two years in a wilderness boot-camp program.
It’s unknown if the detectives who questioned Wright in connection with Talley’s murder knew Fylystyn, but breaking a police officer’s face in Philly does not go unnoticed by his brothers.
Cops using one horrific crime to exact a little revenge for some punk getting off easy for harming one of their own? Does that really happen?
So it’s almost no wonder that police zeroed in on Wright as a suspect in Talley’s murder before they had even left the crime scene.
There were other witnesses, all from the crack house next door, who testified that they saw Wright enter Talley’s house, and both of whom recanted and one of whom said the cops coerced his cooperation by telling him he would never see his mother again. What are the chances they’re still around for trial? Who knows.
But that hasn’t stopped the prosecution from going for its Mulligan. Wright’s lawyers are fighting retrial hard, delaying the start of trial from today to next summer. But after having served 23 years in prison, and now facing that nasty DNA evidence that the evil Innocence Project unearthed, they show no inclination to lose gracefully and accept the premise that they convicted the wrong guy.