Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner announced on Friday, Aug. 13, that three former Philadelphia police officers are facing criminal charges, including perjury, in relation to a miscarriage of justice that put an innocent man in prison for 25 years.
A grand jury recommended criminal charges against former homicide detectives Manuel Santiago, Martin Devlin and Frank Jastrzembski, on the basis of their testimony in the 2016 retrial of Anthony Wright, whose 1993 conviction for the rape and murder of an elderly woman was vacated on the basis of DNA evidence in 2014.
The detectives are accused of lying on the witness stand during Wright’s retrial that threatened to send him back to prison for life. The detectives, each of whom had served with the department for more than 25 years, turned themselves in last Friday. They were released on bail and a hearing is scheduled for later in the month. Each of the detectives have been mentioned in at least four different cases in which defendants were ultimately exonerated.
“These charges are an indication that a Philadelphia jury, in this case a grand jury, can carefully look at evidence and can understand that the law must apply equally to people, whether they are in law enforcement, or supposed to be served by law enforcement,” Krasner said Friday.
On Oct. 19, 1991, 77-year-old Louise Talley was found dead in her Philadelphia home by police. She had been raped and stabbed to death.
Police said someone told them Wright had committed the crime and directed them to a nearby home where a man named Roland Saint James was arrested after he told police he rented the space to people who smoked crack. A television belonging to Talley was found there, police told James.
At the police station, James, under the impression that he was the primary suspect in Talley’s murder, signed a statement claiming Wright told him he had killed Talley and stolen to television. Another man staying at the home, John Richardson, also had been brought to the station, and he signed a statement claiming Wright asked him to be a lookout while he entered Talley’s home.
Police brought Wright to the police station and detectives Devlin, Santiago and Jastrzembski claimed that within a matter of hours he had signed a typed confession admitting to Talley’s rape and murder.
On June 8, 1993, the jury convicted Wright of capital murder, rape, theft, burglary, robbery and weapons violations on the basis of testimony from James, Richardson, and two teenagers who claimed they saw Wright enter the home. He was sentenced to life in prison.
By 2013, after eight years of Wright appealing to have DNA evidence examined in the case, testing showed that another man, Ronnie Byrd, had committed the rape, although he had died in prison by that time.
The following year the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office agreed to vacate Wright’s conviction, but then-Philadelphia DA Seth Williams’ office now claimed that Wright was an accomplice to the crime, leading to the retrial at which Wright was acquitted.
According to Krasner, Santiago and Devlin coerced a clearly false confession from Wright, and Jastrzembski lied under oath about finding bloody clothing linking Wright to the crime in Wright’s home. Krasner said the clothes were actually found in Talley’s home and had Talley’s DNA on them.
Devlin testified at the 2016 retrial that that he had never threatened an interview subject, and said he had transcribed Wright’s confession verbatim.
Santiago and Jastrzembski also told jurors in 2016 that they had not been briefed before the retrial on the DNA tests conducted that showed another man had raped Talley. The detectives later admitted during civil proceedings that then-assistant DA Bridget Kirn had informed them of the test results in pretrial briefings.
In addition to perjury, the detectives also face charges of swearing false statements. They have consistently denied wrongdoing but could face prison time if convicted.
Wright spent 25 years in prison, then settled a lawsuit with the city for $9.8 million in 2018.
“This will mean everything to me if those guys individually can be held accountable for what they did to me,” he told The Philadelphia Inquirer last week. “And their name is on so many people’s paperwork that were wronged.”