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Isaac Wright Jr. was just 29 years old when a judge told sentenced him to life for crimes he did not commit.
Wright was accused of heading up a massive cocaine ring operating in New Jersey and sentenced to life in prison in 1991. Under the state’s laws at the time, he would not even be eligible for parole until 30 years had passed, according to the New York Times.
Wright wasn’t guilty of the crime, but he fell victim to overzealous law enforcement, coerced false testimony and a notoriously corrupt prosecutor. However, Wright would never give up trying to prove his innocence and, today, he is out of prison and practicing law, describing himself as a "giant slayer."
This week, ABC premiered the new legal drama, “For Life,” based on Wright’s remarkable journey from convict to legal superhero –– fighting for the wrongfully accused and unjustly sentenced. Produced by rapper Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson along with Wright himself, the series will target the challenges and faults in America’s criminal justice system, while telling the unbelievable true story of Wright following his unjust conviction.
While serving his presumed life sentence, Wright didn’t waste time feeling sorry for himself. Rather, he studied the law while preparing to appeal his conviction. He was installed as a prison paralegal and helped out with a number of his fellow inmates’ cases, according to Blurred Bylines, an online magazine focusing on minority voices.
In 1996, Wright and his lawyer successfully petitioned for a hearing, at which they made it clear his conviction was illegitimate. Narcotics detectives working for notorious Somerset County prosecutor Nicholas Bissell had illegally seized drugs and pressured his three co-defendants to testify in exchange for lighter sentences, the Times reported. At that 1996 hearing, the three recanted their testimony and accused Bissell of lying.
Bissell had been convicted on a number of corruption charges that year and had killed himself following those convictions –– possibly in an effort to avoid facing his sentencing, the Times reported. Before he was caught, the corrupt prosecutor made a habit of seizing assets from drug dealers for himself and even had plans to frame a judge who wasn’t treating Bissell’s side favorably in a case. Then, on Nov. 18, while awaiting sentencing, Bissell cut off his ankle bracelet and fled to Nevada, where he shot himself in the head in a Laughlin motel room days later.
After Wright's release, he kept studying, eventually passing the New Jersey bar exam in 2008, according to Blurred Bylines. However, he faced obstacles still, even as a free man.
For nine years his admission to the bar was stalled by members who weren’t keen on his admission. They probed every aspect of his life and investigated his background, Blurred Bylines reported. Eventually, the state Supreme Court intervened and admitted Wright to the bar.
Today, Wright is currently Of Counsel at the Newark firm Hunt, Hamlin & Ridley, defending clients he believes have been wrongfully accused.
"To slay giants for a price," Wright described his job to Blurred Bylines –– explaining further that he would gladly even take a case for free "if the giant is big enough."
Actor Nicholas Pinnock stars as Aaron Wallace –– the show's protagonist who was inspired by Wright –– in “For Life,” is currently airing on ABC.
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