After DNA Exoneration, Anthony Wright Sues City and Police

He claims that police threatened his life to obtain a false confession.

Anthony Wright with his granddaughter after his release from prison in August. Photo by Kevin Monko, courtesy The Innocence Project

Anthony Wright with his granddaughter after his release from prison in August. Photo by Kevin Monko, courtesy The Innocence Project

Less than one month ago Anthony Wright walked out of prison, where he had spent the previous 25 years for the 1991 rape and murder of his 77-year-old neighbor, Louise Talley. DNA evidence has proven that Wright, 44, was not the killer, and now he is suing the City of Philadelphia as well as the police.

Wright, represented by prominent civil rights lawyer and University of Pennsylvania professor David Rudovsky, filed his lawsuit on Tuesday in Philadelphia’s federal court.

In the complaint, published in full below, Wright accuses the police of “egregious misconduct” in their attempt to pin the blame on him. The suit alleges that investigators ignored other possible suspects, including a man named Ronnie Byrd, who has since died. DNA testing has shown that Byrd was the rapist.

Specifically, Wright claims that police threatened his life to coerce him into signing a false confession, and that police falsely claimed that they found clothing connected to the crime in his bedroom. He says that one cop threatened to “rip [his] eyes out” and to “skull-fuck” him if he didn’t confess.

“What Defendants did not realize, in 1991, was that the development of a convicted offender DNA database would eventually prove that Ronnie Byrd — a man with no connection to Mr. Wright — was the rapist and killer,” reads the suit. “Defendants also did not expect that refinements in DNA testing would prove their misconduct with the clothing: scientific testing proved that the clothes police claimed Mr. Wright confessed to wearing during the crime (and that Defendants supposedly recovered from his bedroom) were actually worn by Mrs. Talley, not by Mr. Wright. This new evidence strongly supported the conclusion that Defendants collected the clothes from Mrs. Talley’s house and falsely claimed they were recovered from Mr. Wright’s bedroom.”

The suit goes on to claim that police ignored evidence and failed to report statements made by some witnesses that might have cleared Wright. The investigators are also accused of coercing statements from other witnesses that implicated Wright.

Wright’s attorneys initially petitioned the court in 2005 for DNA testing, but his request was denied. That decision was appealed, and in 2011, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court allowed for the testing. Two years later, a test showed that the semen found inside the victim belonged to Byrd. Wright was granted a new trial, and a jury acquitted him in August after less than an hour of deliberation.

“The evidence of his innocence was so overwhelming that there could’ve been no other verdict,” the jury foreperson said.

The suit also states that the Philadelphia Police Department has exhibited a “pattern of unconstitutional misconduct in homicide investigations, including the fabrication of evidence, coercion and suggestion of false statements from witnesses and suspects, and suppression of exculpatory evidence” and then goes on to list several of those cases.

Wright accuses the defendants of malicious prosecution, deprivation of liberty without due process, and fabricating evidence, and other civil rights violations.

While the majority of states provide automatic financial assistance to those wrongly incarcerated, Pennsylvania does not. Wright’s lawsuit seeks unspecified damages. In 2008, Delaware County paid out the last installment of a $4 million settlement to a Nicholas Yarris, who spent 22 years on Pennsylvania’s death row after being wrongfully convicted of murder. Yarris was Pennsylvania’s first death-row inmate exonerated by DNA evidence.

The Philadelphia Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Anthony Wright v. City of Philadelphia