DNA testing of a single human hair, which could make all the difference in the prosecution's ability to retry Anthony Wright in the 1991 rape and murder of a 77-year-old Nicetown woman, is inconclusive.
Wright's Feb. 29 retrial in the Oct. 19 slaying of Louise Talley was postponed when police reexamined clothes believed to have been worn by Talley and discovered two hairs apparently overlooked in the original investigation a quarter-century ago.
One of the hairs proved unsuitable for DNA testing; the "inconclusive" finding in the comparison of the second hair with Wright's DNA became public Friday in a pretrial hearing before Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Sandy L.V. Byrd.
The DNA results were confirmed by Samuel W. Silver, a Philadelphia lawyer who has worked with the Innocence Project of New York to get a new trial for Wright, 44, who has been serving a life sentence. Wright's defense team had been hoping for a conclusive result showing that the hair was not from Wright.
Silver said he still was awaiting further test results to determine whether the hair belonged to Talley or Ronnie Byrd, the now-dead crack addict whom DNA identified as and police agree was Talley's rapist.
The two hairs were inside a bloodstained Chicago Bulls sweatshirt that was recovered after Talley's body was found in her home in the 3900 block of Nice Street.
Silver said he would like to have the prosecution barred from using the "inconclusive" test result at Wright's retrial, currently set for Aug. 8.
Silver said the only two people whose DNA was identified at the crime scene were Ronnie Byrd and the victim.
Assistant District Attorney Bridget Kirn was not available for comment.
At a hearing earlier this year, Kirn won a motion to introduce at trial Wright's 1991 nine-page confession, which Wright later said had been coerced by police. The judge ruled that there was insufficient evidence that Wright had been pressured to confess.
The prosecution has altered its original theory that Wright acted alone. Prosecutors agree that Ronnie Byrd raped Talley, but allege that Wright was present and cannot be excluded as the person who stabbed Talley 10 times and killed her.
Wright was serving a sentence of life without parole for Talley's rape and murder. Backed by the Innocence Project at Yeshiva University's Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School in New York, and Silver and lawyers from the firm of Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis L.L.P., he persuaded a judge to order advanced DNA testing on samples from Talley's rape kit, a sweatshirt, a pair of blue jeans with black suede patches, and black Fila sneakers.
In 1991, the use of DNA testing to identify or exclude criminal suspects was in its infancy and not generally accepted by courts.
When Wright was arrested, police alleged that the bloody clothing was his and said they found it where he told them it would be: hidden in his bedroom at his mother's house, about a mile from Talley's house.
Wright has contended the clothing wasn't his, and his mother testified in the 1993 trial that police never removed clothing from her house.
The tests, confirmed by the Philadelphia Police Department's own DNA analysts, confirmed that sperm found in Talley's body was not from Wright but from Ronnie Byrd, an ex-Philadelphian who died in a South Carolina prison in 2013 at age 62.
More important, DNA testing of the clothing, especially interior sections behind the knees, elbows, and crotch, proved that Talley, not Wright, had worn the clothing.
After those DNA tests came back in 2013, the District Attorney's Office agreed to vacate Wright's conviction and retry him.
Ronnie Byrd is not the only principal who will not be available for the retrial.
The judge has allowed the prosecution to use transcripts of the 1993 trial testimony of Roland St. James, 44, and roommate John "Buddy" Richardson, 36, who testified that Wright tried to get them to help loot Talley's house. St. James also said Wright told him he had killed a woman. Both men have since died.
Wright has denied knowing St. James, Richardson, or Ronnie Byrd, and his lawyers say they have discovered evidence that police initially considered St. James a suspect in Talley's rape and murder. St. James reportedly operated a crack house on Bott Street, which backed up to Talley's house. Both men also were associates of Ronnie Byrd's, according to the defense, and had reason to incriminate someone else in Talley's killing.