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Philly gets a national black eye

Rolling Stone portrays our criminal-justice system as even worse than it is.

Anthony Wright and his son in the 1990s. Wright is serving life in the attack on a Nicetown woman, 77. DNA evidence challenges case.
Anthony Wright and his son in the 1990s. Wright is serving life in the attack on a Nicetown woman, 77. DNA evidence challenges case.Read more

PHILADELPHIA'S getting another national black eye, this time in Rolling Stone, thanks to what looks like illegal, out-of-control behavior by some Philly cops.

To anyone living here, that's not an aha! moment. Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman won a Pulitzer for a series exposing it, and the Daily News, the Inquirer and other publications have carried dozens of stories on disgraceful police misconduct in recent years.

Difference is, Rolling Stone earlier this month put the suspected criminals-in-blue on a national stage. (Good thing the pope and the DNC bookings are confirmed.)

Our poor record allows author Paul Solotaroff to get away with wild-hair stuff like, "Philadelphia has been waging a half-century war against its citizens of color."

Wow! Really?

Sure - if you're a product of Manhattan's elite Upper West Side (a closet Mets fan) who regards Philly as Bumpkinville.

When Solotaroff writes that Philadelphia taxpayers flee to Bucks County (when we know that Montgomery, Delaware and Camden counties are more likely refuges), that's minor.

When he writes, "Two years ago, [Philly] cops shot 52 civilians, resulting in 15 deaths," and Philadelphia Police Department records show two years ago, 2013, 24 civilians (called "offenders" by police) shot by cops, and 11 deaths, that's less minor.

Philly's record is bad enough that it doesn't need to be goosed, as Solotaroff does, either by error or slant.

Solotaroff hung his story around lifer Anthony Wright. Let's look at his case, using Solotaroff's reporting, plus what's found in Inquirer and Daily News archives.

The outline: Wright - who had a troubled childhood - was questioned in the 1991 rape and murder of Louise Talley, 77, whose body was found in the bedroom of her Nicetown home. A 22-year-old drug addict, Wright signed a nine-page confession thoughtfully provided for him by homicide detectives Martin Devlin and Manuel Santiago, who allegedly had handcuffed him to a chair and threatened to "skullf---" him.

The prosecution had two witnesses who placed Wright at the scene. (They later recanted.) No crime-scene fingerprints matched Wright's.

Years later, the Innocence Project demanded DNA testing of the deceased. The District Attorney's Office fought the testing, and lost.

DNA proved that semen in the victim did not match Wright.

It did match a crackhead named Ronnie Byrd, with a long list of arrests, who hung in Talley's neighborhood.

To make the case work, prosecutors now would have to say: OK, Wright didn't rape Talley, but he was there with a confederate.

Uh-oh. The nine-page confession never mentions an accomplice. There are other implausible and conflicting details, but you've heard enough.

When the D.A. opposed DNA testing in 2007, Elmer Smith wrote in the Daily News: "The D.A.'s office seems more interested in holding onto Wright than it is in being absolutely sure the crime is solved."

That brings us to the present.

In September, Common Pleas Judge D. Webster Keogh vacated the 1993 verdicts against Wright and ordered a new trial. At the time, the D.A.'s office said it intended to re-try Wright. Now the D.A.'s office tells me it is in "pre-trial preparation," but had "made no decision."

Sounds like a reversal might be coming. That's good.

The purpose of law is to dispense justice, not to vindicate the prosecution. The initial injustice against Wright did not occur on D.A. Seth Williams' watch.

Continuing the injustice will. It's time to walk away from a case that just stinks.

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky