Delaware Supreme Court overturns death row inmate’s sentence
Delaware’s longest serving death row inmate has been granted a new trial.
The Delaware Supreme Court reversed Jermaine Wright’s murder conviction and death sentence citing a “miscarriage of justice” in their unanimous ruling on Monday.
Wright, who was 18 years old when he was arrested, has served 21 years on Delaware’s death row after he was convicted for the murder of liquor store clerk Phillip Seifert.
Seifert was working at Hi-Way Inn liquor store in Wilmington on January 14, 1991, when the store was robbed around 10:30 p.m. According to witnesses, two African American males in their mid-20s were seen fleeing the store. Seifert was shot three times and died at a local hospital.
No forensic evidence or witnesses
Wright’s defense team argued that the state suppressed evidence during his trial and that there was no forensic evidence or witnesses to connect Wright to the crime.
“As the court found, not a shred of forensic or eyewitness evidence ties Mr. Wright to the crime, and, in violation of Mr. Wright’s constitutional rights, evidence was illegally suppressed in the case - evidence which clearly points to other suspects and challenges the credibility of two witnesses who did testify in the case,” said Herbert Mondros, attorney for Jermaine Wright.
The defense argued that the prosecution did not disclose the fact that another robbery happened at the nearby Brandywine Village Liquor store less than an hour before the Hi-Way Inn shooting. While witness descriptions of the suspects were similar, the Brandywine liquor clerk, who was given photos of potential suspects, did not identify Wright as one of the robbers. His description of the suspects also did not match Wright.
The defense also questioned the creditability of men who took the stand during Wright’s trial and claimed that Wright “falsely confessed” to the crime while high on heroin during a 10 hour interrogation.
Confession under the influence
“At his 1992 trial, the state did not present any forensic evidence including fingerprints, shoe prints, or fibers placing Wright at the scene,” wrote Justice Henry duPont Ridgely in the Delaware Supreme Court’s opinion. “Nor did the state present the murder weapon, shell casings, the getaway car, or eyewitnesses to identify Wright. Instead, a jury convicted Wright on his confession to the police while under the influence of heroin and the testimony (since recanted) of a prison informant who testified that Wright admitted the crime.”
Superior Court Judge John Parkins tried to overturn Wright’s conviction in 2012, stating that Wright received a faulty Miranda rights ruling, and that he had little confidence in the evidence against Wright.
However, the Supreme Court disagreed with some of Judge Parkins decisions and reinstated Wright’s conviction and death sentence last year. Wright’s attorneys appealed to the Supreme Court.
While Wright is entitled to a new trial, the Attorney General’s office has not decided if they will pursue the case.
“The Department of Justice respects the Court's decision,” said Joseph Rogalsky, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office. “We will in short order assess the feasibility of retrying a case that's 20 years old.”
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