For more than two decades, Anthony Wright has lived with the title a Philadelphia jury gave him - rapist and murderer of 77-year-old Louise Talley, who was stabbed to death in her Nicetown home on Oct. 19, 1991.
Wright, 43, is far from a free man. But he still wiped tears from his eyes Monday when Common Pleas Court Judge D. Webster Keough formally vacated the 1993 verdicts against him, ordered a new trial, and told him: "You are now presumed innocent until proven guilty."
Keough's ruling was expected. On Friday, the District Attorney's Office announced it would retry Wright after new DNA testing showed the semen and sperm found on the victim belonged to a man who died last year in South Carolina.
Assistant District Attorney Mark Gilson said the decision to retry Wright was made out of fairness to address "scientific evidence that simply was not available when this case was tried in 1993."
But Gilson, flanked by prosecutors Robin Godfrey and Barbara Paul, members of the appeals unit, maintained that the new DNA evidence proved only that Wright had an accomplice and that the totality of evidence "overwhelmingly proved that he murdered Louise Talley."
The absence of Wright's DNA does not exclude him from being the killer, Gilson said.
Keough set Sept. 30 for a scheduling conference before Judge Benjamin Lerner, who oversees pretrial motions and scheduling for all city homicide cases.
And it seems likely Wright's second trial will be as least as hard-fought as his first.
After the hearing, Gilson and Peter Neufeld, codirector of the Innocence Project at Yeshiva University's Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School in New York, sparred in the hallway.
Neufeld stood by Gilson as he answered reporters' questions and, when Gilson asked why, said he wanted to make sure the prosecutor did not misrepresent facts.
Gilson shot back and called Neufeld rude for interrupting the session with reporters.
On Monday, four defense lawyers were present for the 15-minute hearing: Neufeld and Innocence Project senior staff attorney Nina Morrison, and local counsel from the firm Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis L.L.P., Samuel Silver and Rebecca Lacher.
Wright did not speak at the hearing, but some of about a dozen relatives gasped as he was led into court by sheriff's deputies.
Some of Wright's relatives said they had not seen him for decades and, after the hearing, deputies took the unusual step of letting the family walk by Wright as he sat three feet away at the defense table.
No physical contact was allowed, but some blew kisses or called words of encouragement.
Afterward, Wright's son and namesake, Anthony Jr., 27, told reporters: "This is just an emotional day. I'm just happy the process has started. We're not trying to rush our blessings but at least it's in motion and I'm just very grateful that the light is starting to show."
Wright said his father is looking forward to seeing the birth of his first grandchild.
Wright's brother, Darnell Fischer, added, "We're just happy to get over this hurdle. It's more than a hurdle, it's like a miracle."
Because Wright is charged with first-degree murder, he is not eligible for bail. For the moment, he will remain in Graterford Prison before his likely transfer to the city's prison system.
This year's latest DNA tests on Talley's body were linked through a federal DNA database to a career criminal and crack addict named Ronnie Byrd, who died early last year in South Carolina at the age of 62.
Neufeld insisted Wright had nothing to do with Talley's murder and said Wright had never heard of Byrd before the new DNA results came back.
In addition to Wright's signed confession, Gilson said clothing Wright was identified as wearing on the night of the murder, stained with Louise Talley's blood, was found inside his home in Nicetown, hidden under his bed.
Wright's lawyers have argued that the clothing - with Talley's blood on it - was planted by detectives and that his DNA was not found on it. The clothing, they say, belonged to the victim.
At the time of her death, Talley was recently widowed and lived alone on the 3900 block of Nice Street. She was 5-foot-10 and weighed 152 pounds.
Gilson, however, said the clothing - including size-36 men's jeans - was "not what you would expect a 77-year-old woman to be wearing."
Wright confessed to homicide detectives in Talley's killing but then recanted; he testified at trial and has insisted since that he did not rape or murder her and that detectives coerced him into signing a confession they wrote and handed to him.