Phila. case may lead to more DNA testing for Pa. convicts

Posted: July 11, 2007

At the age of 77, Louise Talley was raped and stabbed to death in her Nicetown home - and Anthony Wright signed a confession saying that he did it.

But his lawyer argued yesterday that Wright is still entitled to DNA testing of evidence that could exonerate him and free him from his life prison term.

"This may be one of those cases where it turns out he's guilty," his lawyer, Nina Morrison, of the New York-based Innocence Project, told a state Superior Court panel. But, she added, "the shame and, really, the horror would be if this was a case that he was not guilty."

Not likely, countered Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Peter Carr, who opposes the DNA testing and contends that the evidence against Wright was overwhelming. "If there's a reasonable possibility of innocence in this case, then there's a reasonable possibility of innocence in every case," he said.

Over the last decade or so, DNA testing has transformed the criminal justice system, providing scientific proof of guilt - or innocence - in cases in which a perpetrator leaves behind blood or other genetic material.

But courts are still sorting out which inmates, convicted in the pre-DNA years, are entitled to tests. A 2002 Pennsylvania law allows such tests if an inmate shows that identity or participation in the crime was at issue at trial and DNA tests would show innocence.

The Innocence Project, which is affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City, has helped exonerate many of the 205 inmates freed nationwide through DNA tests.

It remains unclear whether Wright will join them.

Wright, 35, who was convicted in 1993, insisted that he had nothing to do with the 1991 killing and that police forced him to sign a confession.

Police searched his mother's home and discovered bloodstained clothing mentioned in his confession under his mattress. That blood matched the victim's blood, according to forensic tests done at the time.

Wright said the clothing was not his.

Wright also was implicated by two men who ended up with some of the victim's property, and by two others who said they had seen him outside Talley's home.

Under questioning by the judges, Morrison said, in effect, that stranger cases have ended with DNA exonerations - and that about a quarter of the 205 exonerations involved defendants who had confessed.

And just this week, she said, Union County, N.J., prosecutors formally dismissed all charges against Byron Halsey, who had spent 19 years in prison for murder until DNA tests not available back then cleared him.

The New Jersey courts initially rejected Halsey's request for DNA testing, but at the request of the Innocence Project, prosecutors consented. The testing not only exonerated Halsey - it implicated a convicted sex offender.

Morrison contended that none of the crime-scene evidence - the knife, a stained sheet, material recovered from Talley's body - implicated Wright. Blood on the knife and sheet showed only that it was consistent with the victim's.

She contends that DNA testing should be done on all of the physical evidence in the case to show - once and for all - if Wright was involved. The Innocence Project would pay for the test, she said.

Carr argued that Wright waited too long to seek DNA testing, and that the record does not establish any "reasonable possibility" that the tests would clear Wright.

He said later that if Wright ultimately is allowed DNA testing, it would then be a "very rare case" in which any Pennsylvania prisoner seeking DNA testing could not get it. In Philadelphia alone, he said, 60 prisoners are now seeking DNA tests, contending that such tests will exonerate them.


Contact staff writer Emilie Lounsberry at 215-854-4828 or elounsberry@phillynews.com.

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