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Crime News

Three Philly Detectives Indicted For Their Role In The Wrongful Conviction Of Man Accused Of Rape, Murder In 1991

Manuel Santiago, Martin Devlin, and Frank Jastrzembski have been charged with making false statements that led to the wrongful conviction of Anthony Wright.

By Jax Miller
Police Lights G

Three retired Philadelphia homicide detectives have been indicted for their role in the wrongful conviction of a man who spent 25 years behind bars, according to prosecutors.

Manuel Santiago, Martin Devlin, and Frank Jastrzembski have been charged with perjury and false swearing, according to a live press conference held by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office on Friday. Prosecutors claim the detectives' sworn statements directly led to the wrongful conviction of Anthony Wright for the 1991 rape and murder of 77-year-old Louise Talley.

“The charges in this case relate directly to words that they [detectives] stated, things that they said in and out of court in 2016 and 2017,” said District Attorney Lawrence Krasner. “Long after the original and wrongful conviction of an innocent man, Anthony Wright.”

The District Attorney’s Office cited the statute of limitations as the reason why “several possible crimes committed by detectives” during the 1991 investigation and the 1993 trial have not been charged. The grand jury only considered the detectives' conduct during Wright’s 2016 re-trial, which ultimately led to his acquittal after less than an hour of jury deliberations.

Lawyers presented scientific evidence that not only excluded Wright but identified a man named Ronnie Byrd as Talley’s killer, according to The Innocence Project. Semen found inside the victim matched Byrd’s DNA.

During the press conference, District Attorney Krasner stated that Byrd was “identified as the actual perpetrator of the crime.”

Byrd, who was 38 at the time of the murder, died in South Carolina in 2013, according to The Innocence Project. But despite knowing that DNA evidence pointed to Byrd as a suspect, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office still pursued a retrial of Wright, the organization said.

Wright spent 25 years in prison and “narrowly” escaped a death sentence, the Innocence Project said.

During the press conference, Krasner, who took office in 2018, also blamed his predecessors.

“Wright’s wrongful conviction was overturned, but incredibly the Philadelphia [District Attorney's Office] under former DA Seth Williams re-tried him despite irrefutable science establishing Wright’s innocence,” said Krasner. “The three detectives provided sworn testimony and documentation during the 2016 re-trial (where he was acquitted) and in Wright’s subsequent successful civil rights lawsuit.”

Krasner said that these statements were “the basis for criminal charges” against the three former detectives.

The case against Wright, who was 20 years old at the time of the murder, was founded “on the strength of a coerced false confession – referred to as the Santiago/Devlin Confession – and false testimony from Jastrzembski about the location of clothing he falsely claimed was found during a search of Wright’s bedroom, but was actually found in the victim’s home.”

During the 1993 and 2016 trials, Wright maintained his innocence and claimed detectives threatened bodily harm against him if he did not sign a sworn statement written by authorities, according to The Innocence Project. Police said Wright signed the statement after being in custody for only 14 minutes.

Santiago and Devlin had originally testified that Devlin had transcribed by hand all the questions and Wright's responses during the interrogation. But during the 2016 retrial, and again during a civil case the following year, Devlin was unable to replicate an ability to take such notes, the Washington Post noted.

Krasner also alleged that detectives threatened to “pull his eyes out and skull-f--k him” while Wright cried for his mother, who waited within earshot outside the interrogation room. 

Detectives also allegedly told Wright he could go home if he signed the confession while preventing Wright from reading the contents of the statement.

Wright signed the false statement, claiming to wear clothes that former Det. Jastrzembski falsely stated he found at Wright’s home,” according to the statement. DNA later determined the victim herself wore the clothes, not the killer.

Santiago, Devlin, and Jastrzembski turned themselves in to police, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

A lawyer representing the three men maintained his clients’ innocence.

“These three good men dedicated their lives to seeking justice for victims of crime,” said attorney Brian McMonagle, according to the Inquirer. “In this case, they sought justice for a woman who was brutally raped and murdered.”

Both Santiago and Devlin have been charged with two counts of perjury and two counts of false swearing regarding the confession at the 2016 trial and during a 2017 deposition.

Jastrzembski has been charged with two counts of perjury and two counts of false swearing regarding the clothes he claimed he found in Wright’s bedroom.

Santiago and Jastrzembski have also been charged with an extra count of perjury for false testimony regarding prior knowledge of the DNA results clearing Wright.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for late August.