CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Sunday, November 16, 2008

Editorial: DNA Testing Beyond a shadow of a doubt

It's hard to believe that someone would plead guilty to a crime he didn't commit.

But it happens, more often than anyone likes to admit.

More than 200 people have been exonerated in recent years thanks to advances in DNA testing. In about 25 percent of those cases, the wrongfully convicted person either pleaded guilty, confessed to the crime, or made self-incriminating statements.

A variety of factors can contribute to an innocent person's confessing to a crime he didn't commit, including coercion, duress, fear of violence, limited mental capacity, ignorance of the law, actual harm, and the threat of a long sentence or the death penalty if you don't cooperate.

Such a case is now before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, involving a Philadelphia man convicted of a brutal rape and murder in 1993. He alleges he was pressured by police to confess to the crimes.

Anthony Wright contends he didn't rape and murder a 77-year-old woman in her Nicetown home, and he has requested DNA testing of the evidence. But Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham has opposed the DNA test, arguing that there is no need because Wright confessed.

Wright's attorneys filed an appeal last month to the state Supreme Court, which has yet to rule.

The best and only way to resolve the dispute is to proceed with the DNA test.

Isn't the goal justice?

Wright may very well be guilty. But Abraham's refusal to conduct the DNA test only raises suspicion and undercuts the D.A.'s argument that the right person is behind bars.

Wright was convicted in 1993 of rape, murder and burglary of Louise Talley, a widow who lived near him. Wright was sentenced to life in prison for the crimes, which occurred in September 1991, when he was 20 years old.

Wright's conviction was based largely on his signed confession and the testimony of two witnesses - one of whom police initially considered a suspect. [Mark Godsey]

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