Three years ago, Ronnie Byrd died in a South Carolina prison at age 62, forgotten in his hometown of Philadelphia until DNA testing showed that he raped 77-year-old Louise Talley in 1991 in her Nicetown home.

On Thursday, lawyers for Anthony Wright - the 44-year-old man granted a new trial after being convicted and sentenced to life in prison for Talley's rape and murder - presented a former Nicetown neighbor who put Byrd alive and living around the corner from Talley's house at 3959 Nice St. when she was killed.

Patricia Moon told a Common Pleas Court jury that Byrd was a crack cocaine user who lived in an abandoned house in the 3900 block of Bott Street, where backyards abutted those of houses on Nice Street.

Questioned by Wright attorney Peter Neufeld, Moon described Byrd as "a friend" who used drugs with other crack addicts in the abandoned house.

"I know a crack person when I see one," testified Moon, a home health-care aide, who said Byrd's speech was often slurred and his personal hygiene nonexistent: "He wasn't clean, he didn't wash, and he smelled a lot."

Moon corroborated key elements of Wright's defense: Byrd raped and killed Talley and fellow crack users covered up for him by incriminating Wright to police.

At the time Talley was killed, Moon testified, she was renting a second-floor room at 3959 Bott from Doris Floyd, who lived there with her son, Earl.

Moon testified that Earl Floyd also used drugs and was frequently with Byrd and crack user Roland St. James, who also lived in an abandoned house in the same block of Bott.

St. James and his roommate, John "Buddy" Richardson, both testified for the prosecution in Wright's 1993 trial.

St. James said Wright asked to store televisions and a radio stolen from Talley's house until he could sell them for drug cash and later admitted "he had stabbed a woman to death."

Richardson testified that he saw Wright walking in front of Talley's house and Wright tried to recruit him as a lookout while he went inside.

Like Byrd, St. James and Richardson died after the 1993 trial; transcripts of their 1993 testimony were read to the jury hearing Wright's retrial.

Moon also testified that she did not know Wright or his mother, though their house, at 3983 Nice, was a half-block from her mother's, at 4016 Nice.

Assistant District Attorney Carlos Vega challenged Moon's statement about not knowing Wright.

"You're telling me that in your 12 years living there you never saw that man?" Vega asked, referring to Wright.

"No," replied Moon, who said her block of Nice was on the other side of Lycoming Street. She said she only went into the 3900 block if she was passing through.

Wright maintains that he did not know Byrd, St. James, or Richardson.

Although Moon said she did not recall details of her interview with homicide detectives the day Talley's body was found on Oct. 19, 1991, she did not recant the statement.

Vega also questioned Moon about her statement to detectives that Earl Floyd tried to sell her a television set the day after Talley's murder.

"Earl Floyd didn't work. He was on welfare. Didn't you think it might be stolen?" Vega asked.

Moon said she didn't buy the television, adding, "I don't know where he got it from."

The jury also heard from famed forensic pathologist Michael Baden, the former New York City medical examiner and chief forensic pathologist for Congress' Select Committee on Assassinations, which in 1977 reinvestigated the slayings of President John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Baden undercut two aspects of the prosecution's current theory of the case: Byrd raped Talley but Wright also sexually assaulted her and stabbed her to death.

Baden said "there is no evidence for a second person that I could find."

Baden also said he believed Talley's broken cheek bone was caused by a "stomping" by an assailant wearing a smooth, hard-soled shoe. Baden said the injury could not have been caused by a soft-soled sneaker because that would have left an imprint of the sole design on Talley's face.

When Wright was arrested in 1991, police said that he confessed to the crime and that they found the blood-spattered clothing he wore - a black-and-red Chicago Bulls sweatshirt, jeans, and a pair of black Fila sneakers - in his bedroom where he told police they were hidden.

Wright, 44, has always denied the confession, which he said was coerced, and DNA testing last year on the interior of the clothing proved that Talley was the only person who wore the items.

jslobodzian@phillynews.com

215-854-2985 @joeslobo

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