PHILADELPHIA – Anthony Wright and the City of Philadelphia today agreed to settle Wright v. City of Philadelphia, et al., No. 16-5020 (E.D. Pa.) for $9.85 million.
In 1991, Anthony Wright was arrested for and convicted of rape and murder of 77-year old Louise Talley of North Philadelphia. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Mr. Wright maintained his innocence and in 2013, DNA testing of the rape kit revealed the DNA profile of Ronnie Byrd, a man who had lived as a squatter in an abandoned house in the neighborhood and has since died in South Carolina. Based on the DNA evidence, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office agreed to vacate Mr. Wright’s conviction, but insisted on trying him a second time in August 2016. After deliberating less than an hour, the jury acquitted Mr. Wright and he was released after having served 25 years in prison.
Following his exoneration and release from prison, Mr. Wright filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia and several retired Philadelphia police detectives. In his complaint, Mr. Wright alleged, among other things, that detectives coerced and fabricated his 1991 confession and planted other evidence used to convict him.
The settlement does not include an admission of liability and will be paid over time: $4 million before June 30, 2018; $3 million before August 30, 2018; and $2.85 million before August 30, 2019.
Mayor Jim Kenney:
“I am pleased that a settlement was reached which will allow both the City and Mr. Wright to move forward and believe this is a fair agreement for both parties. Mr. Wright has shown great dignity throughout this process, and I hope this resolution assists him and his family after what they have been through. This is a tragic case and part of the reason why this administration remains steadfast in its commitment to ensuring all people in our City receive fair treatment in our criminal justice system.”
Police Department – Commissioner Richard Ross:
“The Philadelphia Police Department has seen tremendous reforms since the time of Mr. Wright’s incarceration. Today, the PPD is committed to protecting and upholding civil rights in our City, which is why we continually find ways to improve police strategies and techniques consistent with best practices. In addition to improving police practices, the PPD remains committed to conducting fair and thorough investigations of any crime. This is evident by the numerous advancements undertaken by the PPD in the area of forensic science, along with investigative and interrogation procedures, which includes the videotaping of interrogations. In addition, we continue to develop, as we always have, enhanced procedures to ensure all lawfully required evidence is disclosed to prosecutors in a timely manner. This includes all exculpatory evidence and evidence favorable to the defense as required by law. The PPD is committed to continuing these practices and ensuring that our investigations remain fair and impartial.”
City Solicitor Marcel Pratt:
“Mr. Wright spent 25 years in prison and upon his retrial by the District Attorney’s Office in 2016, which involved the presentation of DNA evidence, a jury exonerated him. With the help of U.S. Magistrate Judge David Strawbridge, the City and Mr. Wright were able to resolve this lawsuit in the parties’ best interests.”
“Although I will never get over the 25 years I spent in prison for crimes I did not commit, or missing time with my mother before she died or with my son the whole time he was growing up, I am relieved that I can now get on with my life,” said Tony Wright. He added, “For the sake of my young grandchildren, I am encouraged that the City of Philadelphia will continue to take steps to make sure that what happened to me never happens to my grandchildren or any other child.”
Peter Neufeld, of Neufeld Scheck & Brustin:
“Tony Wright, an innocent man, wrongfully charged and convicted, narrowly escaped execution when a divided jury declined to impose the death penalty. Mr. Wright maintained his innocence for 25 years and fought in the courts of Pennsylvania for a decade to win the right to DNA testing. His steadfastness, his grace under fire inspire us all. Although one can never put a dollar amount on the losses Mr. Wright suffered, this $9.85 million settlement with the City of Philadelphia will help Tony and his family move forward with their lives. We are appreciative of the City’s decision to resolve this case now.”
David Rudovsky and Paul Messing, of Kairys Rudovsky Messing Feinberg & Lin:
“The City has demonstrated a commitment to fairness and justice in agreeing to resolve this case. We recognize the significant reforms that the Police Department has made over the past years and we will continue to engage in joint efforts with the City to promote fair law enforcement and protection of individual rights. We are hopeful that these continuing efforts to improve police policies and practices will ensure that everyone is treated fairly under the law.”