A man imprisoned for nearly 25 years after being wrongfully convicted of rape and murder has reached a nearly $10 million settlement with the city of Philadelphia, officials announced Wednesday.
Anthony Wright was granted a new trial in the 1991 slaying on the basis of new DNA evidence, and a jury acquitted him in 2016.
Now, his latest measure of exoneration comes in the form of a $9.8 million settlement.
The city agreed to the sum — the largest payout in Philadelphia history — after Wright filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and police officials, whom Wright said produced false evidence in order to make him look guilty.
“Although I will never get over the 25 years I spent in prison for crimes I did not commit, or missing time with my mother before she died or with my son the whole time he was growing up, I am relieved that I can now get on with my life,” Wright said.
The district attorney’s office decided to retry Wright two years ago, rather than releasing him, after his conviction was vacated by a judge in 2014, in light of the new evidence. Prosecutors argued that though forensic tests demonstrated that another man’s DNA’s was connected to the crime, perhaps Wright was still an accomplice in the vicious murder of a 77-year-old woman in her home in North Philadelphia in 1991.
But the jury acquitted Wright in less than an hour.
Wright, who has long maintained his innocence, said police framed him and coerced him to sign a confession that wasn’t even in his words. When police arrested him, at 20 years old, Wright was a seventh-grade dropout and the father of a toddler.
News of Wright’s acquittal in 2016 prompted the national Innocence Project to call on the city to examine all the murder cases involving the three former Philadelphia homicide detectives who allegedly set up Wright.
According to lawyer Peter Neufleld, who helped represent Wright, the multimillion-dollar payout approved on Wednesday will help Wright and his family “move forward with their lives.
“We are appreciative of the city’s decision to resolve this case now.”
Under the settlement, the city does not admit that it was liable for the quarter-century Wright spent behind bars as an innocent man. The city will disburse the total settlement amount in several large payments over the next year.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross said that “tremendous reforms” have been made to the department since Wright was incarcerated.
“In addition to improving police practices, the PPD remains committed to conducting fair and thorough investigations of any crime,” said Ross.
He cited advancements in forensic science and new protocols for interrogations — including videotaping the interviews and procedures to ensure all evidence, even if it is beneficial to the defendant, be turned over.
“This is a tragic case,” said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. “And part of the reason why this administration remains steadfast in its commitment to ensuring all people in our city receive fair treatment in our criminal justice system.”