A day after murder acquittal, Anthony Wright rejoices in family, friends, freedom

Anthony Wright gets a hug from Grace Greco, the jury forewoman at his retrial in a 1991 rape and murder. DNA led to someone else. “The evidence was so compelling for Tony that there really could have been no other verdict” than not guilty, she said. They were at a news conference Wednesday at the Schnader Harrison law offices.

A man who spent 25 years in prison for a rape and murder that a jury concluded he didn't commit, Anthony Wright was emotional and tearful, elated and optimistic.

Bitter, he was not.

"I worship a merciful God and he forgives," Wright, 44, said at a news conference Wednesday, a day after he was acquitted at retrial in the 1991 death of a 77-year-old Nicetown woman.

"Who am I to hold a grudge against somebody?" he asked. "I don't do that, man. I worship a merciful God. And I believe in him, and all the chips will fall where they may. We're here today because of that."

Wednesday's unusual news conference - attended by eight of the 12 jurors who pronounced him not guilty - came not even 24 hours after Wright walked out of a city prison into the arms of his family.

It's tough to start over after almost a quarter-century secluded from the outside world. Pennsylvania has no law compensating exonerated inmates.

And, bitter or not, Wright could still sue the Philadelphia police homicide detectives who said he confessed to the Oct. 19, 1991, slaying of Louise Talley. It was a confession Wright testified he never made, was not allowed to read, and only signed because the officers told him that if he did, he could go home.

Wednesday, however, was about savoring the moment.

Wright spent Tuesday night celebrating with family and friends and his legal team - the Innocence Project of New York and pro bono litigators from the Center City firm of Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis L.L.P. - at a Queen Village pizzeria.

He also got his long-dreamed-of freedom cheesecake: "Man, I was eating so much they had to take it away from me."

He then went home with family, where Wright said he had "a lot of hugs, a lot of kisses, a lot of family, a lot of friends."

"I mean, I had probably four or five phones in my possession at one time," Wright said. "I always say I'm a great multitasker. I don't know how good a job I did last night."

Wright arrived at 11:10 a.m. at the 36th-floor offices of the Schnader law firm. Reporters and photographers were kept at bay in a conference room while Wright was led to another room, where most of his jury waited to greet him.

The Common Pleas Court jury of seven women and five men waited almost two hours Tuesday afternoon, hoping to greet Wright when he left the Criminal Justice Center after the verdict.

It didn't happen. Wright was taken from the courthouse to the Northeast to be officially discharged from the city prison.

At 11:25 a.m., the conference room doors opened, and Wright, his legal team, the jurors, and his family entered to the clicking of cameras.

Grace Greco, the jury forewoman, turned and immediately hugged Wright in front of photographers, saying, "I wish you a long, happy life."

Only Greco and juror Shaina Battis chose to speak to reporters.

"The evidence was so compelling for Tony that there really could have been no other verdict," Greco said.

She said she did not understand why the District Attorney's Office decided to retry Wright after DNA tests of physical evidence proved that he did not rape Talley.

Instead, the DNA tests showed that sperm found inside Talley's body belonged to Ronnie Byrd, a former Nicetown crack addict who died in a South Carolina prison in 2013.

The DNA testing also proved that only Talley's DNA was inside clothing that homicide detectives say Wright told them he wore, and that they said they found inside his bedroom in his mother's Nicetown home.

"More than just saying that it was a waste of taxpayers' money, Tony was kept in jail another two years when he should have been set free," Greco said.

"For whatever reason, the D.A. chose to retry this case, and it wasn't fair to him," Greco added.

Although the District Attorney's Office agreed to a new trial in 2014 after Philadelphia police DNA analysts confirmed tests done by the defense, prosecutors maintained that the new evidence only proved that Wright had an accomplice, not that he was innocent.

Wright then became a man charged with first-degree murder and awaiting trial. But Pennsylvania does not permit bail for those charged with first- or second-degree murder.

Greco declined to comment about the testimony of two homicide detectives who took what she called Wright's "supposed confession."

Three other prosecution witnesses who testified at Wright's 1993 trial and said they saw him entering Talley's house recanted at the retrial.

Battis struggled to control her emotions as she told Wright, "It was a privilege to be part of this trial and see justice served for you. . . . I've never been part of something this huge."

Wright said he was not sure what he would do with his life, but vowed "to live the rest of my days the best I can. Enjoy my family."

"This is all new to me, I'm like a baby right now," he added. "I haven't breathed this type of air. I haven't been hugged so much in so long, by strangers, by people I just met. This is unbelievable."

Wright said he knew he would be released eventually after the first DNA results came in about three years ago: "We all believed this day was coming. We just didn't know when."

And he insisted he isn't looking for explanations from police or prosecutors.

"Those people don't need to explain nothing to me," Wright said. "Explain why you took me away from my family, a 4-year-old boy, my parents, everybody? I don't want anyone to explain anything to me. I want somebody to look my son in the face and explain why his dad was gone for 25 years. For what?"

jslobodzian@phillynews.com

215-854-2985@joeslobo

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