Appeal halts freedom of Delaware death row inmate

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 11, 2012 5:33 PM
Appeal halts freedom of Delaware death row inmate

By Dave Warner

WILMINGTON, Del (Reuters) - Prosecutors filed a last-minute appeal to keep a Delaware death row inmate in prison on Wednesday, setting back prospects the convicted killer could be freed.

Superior Court Judge John Parkins vacated the murder conviction of Jermaine Wright last week, setting up what was expected to be a hearing on Wednesday to set bail.

Wright, 40, has been on Delaware's death row in Smyrna prison longer than all but one other inmate.

However, Parkins's ruling met with opposition from state prosecutors, who filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court, putting a halt to the bail hearing.

Parkins said he would only proceed with the hearing if told to do so by the state Supreme Court.

In vacating the murder conviction, Parkins was critical of the lead police investigator and said Wright had not been properly read his rights, so his statements should not have been put into evidence.

"Aside from Wright's confession, the case against him was weak to nonexistent," the judge wrote.

The judge said there was no forensic evidence tying Wright to the crime and no murder weapon was found. He also said there were no eyewitnesses and no functioning security camera recording what happened.

"The court realizes and much regrets that its ruling today will cause anguish and frustration to (the victim's) friends and loved ones," Parkins wrote.

Relatives of Phillip Seifert, who was gunned down in his brother's liquor store near Wilmington in 1991, said they were "outraged" by the decision.

"This judge is in error. He's got it wrong," said Royce Seifert, son of the victim.

The victim's brother, Lawrence Seifert, who owned the HiWay Inn bar and liquor store where the killing occurred, also voiced his anger.

"How would he feel if someone in his family got shot like that?" he said. "Would he have the same attitude?"

It was unclear how long the state Supreme Court might take in ruling on the appeal.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Daniel Trotta)