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US inmate with more than 2 decades on death row freed

February 2, 2015

DOVER, Delaware (AP) — A man who spent more than two decades on Delaware’s death row has been set free, for now, as prosecutors appeal a judge’s ruling that they cannot use a coerced confession he gave to police while high on heroin.

Jermaine Wright, 42, walked out of a maximum-security prison and into the arms of his mother, Delores, on Friday, 24 years to the day that he was taken into custody following the 1991 killing of a liquor store clerk in Delaware.

“It was an emotional reunion with his family. It was quite a day,” said Herb Mondros, one of Wright’s defense attorneys.

Prosecutors promptly moved to dismiss the charges against Wright last week in a procedural requirement that clears the way for an appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court of the suppression ruling by Superior Court Judge John A. Parkins Jr. If their appeal is successful, prosecutors will seek to refile the charges against Wright.

Wright was sentenced to death for the murder of Phillip Seifert, 66, at a liquor store and bar on Jan. 14, 1991.

In overturning Wright’s conviction and death sentence, Parkins ruled in 2012 that a confession Wright gave to police during an interrogation lasting nearly 13 hours was defective because he had not been properly advised of his rights against self-incrimination and to have an attorney appointed for him. The confession was a linchpin for prosecutors at Wright’s 1992 murder trial, and Deputy Attorney General Steve Wood has said it’s unlikely that prosecutors would proceed with the case without the confession.

“The police extracted Mr. Wright’s confession after 13 hours of interrogation in a windowless 13 x 10 room while handcuffed to a table,” Mondros said in a written statement Friday. “Mr. Wright, who was 18 at the time, was under the influence of heroin and, as the Superior Court found, behaved bizarrely, a fact ignored by his interrogators.

“The result was a so-called confession that was factually inconsistent with the physical evidence and eyewitness accounts, and found wholly unreliable by the court.”

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