DELAWARE (USA): LONGTIME DEATH ROW INMATE JERMAINE WRIGHT SET FREE
September 12, 2016: Jermaine Wright, who spent more than 20 years on death row, walked out of prison a free man today after he pleaded no contest to 2nd-degree murder on the eve of his retrial. Wright, 43, was sentenced to the maximum 20 years and released after Superior Court Judge Eric Davis ruled his more than 24 years of incarceration counted as time served.
He was sentenced to death in 1992 in the killing of 66-year-old Phillip Seifert, a clerk at a liquor store. Wright's attorney, Herbert Mondros, stressed that Wright has maintained his innocence since he was first arrested at 18. "As Mr. Wright made clear ... this no contest plea is not an admission of guilt," Mondros said in a statement. "It is simply a way for Wright to put an end to this unjust nightmare and get back to his family."
Wright's case has been the focus of the Delaware legal system for more than 2 decades. In the latest turn 6 weeks ago, Delaware's Supreme Court found the state's death penalty law unconstitutional, meaning Wright couldn't be sentenced to death in the retrial of his case. Monday's plea brought an end to a lengthy back-and-forth between attorneys and Wright, and ended the possibility of another long trial. Superior Court Judge John Parkins Jr. overturned Wright's conviction and death sentence in 2012 on the premise that Wright wasn't properly advised of his rights during the police interrogation - a nearly 13-hour event in which Wright provided a confession while he was high on heroin. He was freed from prison for nearly a year until prosecutors refiled charges in January. "Justice was not served when Mr. Wright was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death, nor was justice served by keeping this young man in solitary confinement for over half his life for a crime he did not commit," Mondros said. "This case exemplifies all that is wrong with the death penalty. Indeed, the arbitrariness of its application is exemplified by the fact that a mere 2 months ago, the State actively sought Mr. Wright's execution. Today, he is a free man."
For Philip Seifert's son, Royce, the sentencing Monday marked the final example of a "broken" justice system. In a statement to the court, he explained that Wright had already been convicted by a jury and sentenced to death. A confession he gave to police, Seifert added, contained details only the killer would know.
In 2013, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed Parkins' ruling, saying his review of Wright's confession, the linchpin of the prosecution's case, was procedurally barred. The court also rejected Parkins' determination that there was an "actual innocence" exception allowing him to reconsider the issue. A majority of justices also said Wright was not prejudiced by the withholding of evidence about the earlier robbery attempt because it would not have bolstered his alibi defense.
Following yet another appeal, however, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously last year that Wright was entitled to a new trial because prosecutors repeatedly withheld potentially exculpatory evidence suggesting that Seifert may have been killed by 2 men who tried to rob another liquor store in the vicinity a short time earlier.
Parkins then ruled that Wright's confession could not be used at his retrial. Shortly after, the Supreme Court overturned that ruling and ordered that the case be assigned to a different judge. Wright was taken back into custody after nearly a year of freedom when prosecutors refiled charges against him in January.
"Criminal cases do not get better with age," prosecutor Steve Wood said Monday when asked about the plea bargain, adding that memories change and that some of the physical evidence in the case has gone missing. He declined to provide details. "Given the state of the evidence and the passage of time, today's resolution was appropriate," Wood said. (Source: delawlareonline.com, 12/09/2016)