Byko: The D.A.'s worst week ever

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Anthony Wright with his son in the 1990s.

This has got to be a week D.A. Seth Williams would like to forget.

It actually started last week with a revelation that he belatedly reported more than $160,000 in gifts from friends, associates and employees.

Let that sink in: $160,000 in gifts. No strings attached, of course.

Then there was his office declining to investigate a charge of sexual assault at the Democratic Convention.

The hits kept on coming Tuesday with a jury taking about two hours to find Anthony Wright not guilty of rape and murder in a second trial that never should have been brought.

Wright, now 44, was convicted in  the 1991 rape and murder of Louise Talley, 77, in her Nicetown home.

Wright did sign a confession, which he later recanted, saying detectives scared him into signing. He was sentenced to life.

(At this point, I’ll suggest, again, police video all confessions to avoid later charges of coercion, and to avoid actual coercion.  We want cops to wear cameras on patrol, why not in the interrogation room?)

Some years later, the Innocence Project took an interest in the case and wanted DNA testing.

The D.A.’s office reflexively refused, seemingly more interested in the conviction than in the truth, but lost in court.

The DNA testing showed physical evidence attached to a crackhead named Ronnie Byrd, but none to Wright.

To make the case work, prosecutors had to change tactics. After insisting Wright was the murderer, they now claimed he was an accomplice.

That was dodgy because the confession Wright signed (without having even reading, he said) never mentioned another person at the crime scene. In eight pages, he never once mentions a confederate.

In 2014, the courts vacated Wright’s conviction and ordered a new trial.  

The D.A. did not to have to try Wright again, but it did. And it lost, badly.

This brings me to Marcus Perez, whom I have written about before. He’s serving life in Graterford because he was misled into what a guilty plea would mean. The sentencing judge, Theodore McKee, now chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, told me that he told Perez he would not get life in prison if he took a plea bargain. The judge was wrong.

Perez took the plea bargain, but was sentenced to life. A clear case of judicial error.

“I was dead wrong,” McKee told me.

There is a remedy. Perez can appeal, and he has.

But for him to get a new hearing, the D.A.’s office has to approve, or at least not object.

But each time the appeal comes up, the D.A. objects, once again seeming to be more interested in sustaining the deserved conviction -- but the wrong sentence -- than in justice.

It’s never too late to do the right thing, D.A. Williams. Why don’t you start doing the right thing to try to repair your tattered reputation?

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