Update: In a unanimous ruling delivered on May 19, 2014, the Delaware Supreme Court overturned Wright’s conviction and sentence due to the suppression of exculpatory evidence by prosecutors and police in his case. Read the Court’s opinion here.
Jermaine Wright has spent 21 years on Delaware’s death row for a crime he almost certainly did not commit. Key evidence of alternate suspects was suppressed in the case, and Mr. Wright was convicted on the basis of a false confession, which was elicited over the course of 13 hours and while Mr. Wright high on heroin when he was eighteen years old. There is no forensic evidence or eyewitness evidence of any kind tying Mr. Wright to the crime. Moreover, the so-called facts provided by Mr. Wright in his confession are demonstrably false, inconsistent with eyewitness accounts and the physical evidence. Indeed, during state post-conviction proceedings, the State acknowledged that other than the confession it admits is riddled with error, there is no evidence that Mr. Wright committed this crime.
On January 14, 1991, two liquor stores in Wilmington, DE, which are approximately a mile and a half apart, the Brandywine Village Liquor Store and the HiWay Inn, were robbed within an hour of each other. Both crimes were committed by a pair of men described by witnesses from the two scenes as being of a similar age, build, and race. Police eliminated Mr. Wright as a suspect from the Brandywine crime, but elicited a confession from him for the crime at the HiWay Inn, charging him with capital murder. Mr. Wright’s statement has since been discredited by the nation’s leading experts on false confessions. Information about the first robbery, from which Mr. Wright was eliminated as a suspect, was suppressed from his attorneys. The only evidence against Mr. Wright besides the confession was the now-discredited testimony of a jailhouse snitch.
After a thorough evidentiary hearing last year, Judge Parkins of New Castle County Superior Court found that issues with the case, including a violation of Mr. Wright’s Brady rights in the suppression of information about the first crime, required that his death sentence be vacated and a new trial held. However, this week, the Supreme Court of Delaware, in a 4-1 decision, found that the new evidence in the case was procedurally barred and that the conviction and death sentence should stand.
In a strong dissent, Justice Henry DuPoint Ridgely said that Mr. Wright is entitled to a new trial, because “had the State turned over this exculpatory evidence, Wright’s trial counsel could have argued that the same perpetrators of the BVLS robbery – a crime for which the police excluded Wright as a suspect – likely committed the Hi-Way Inn murder as well. The jury never heard this exculpatory argument,” because the State suppressed this information.
Justice Ridgely noted, “a capital defendant is not entitled to a perfect trial, but he is entitled to a fair one consistent with due process and the State’s duty to disclose exculpatory evidence.” This did not happen in Mr. Wright’s case.
“Over the strong dissent of a Delaware Supreme Court Justice, the court used a legal technicality to avoid addressing the real issue in this case, Mr. Wright’s innocence,” said Herbert Montros, an attorney for Jermaine Wright.
Read Judge Parkins’ decision which found Brady violations in the case here: 12-01-03_OPINION