Photo: Michelle Murphy with exoneree Cornelius Dupree.
On September 12, with the consent of District Attorney Tim Harris, a Tulsa court exonerated Michelle Murphy of the murder of her infant son. Recent DNA testing of crime scene evidence points to an unknown male as the real perpetrator. In the course of representing Michelle, lawyers also uncovered other evidence pointing to her innocence that was known to the prosecution but never disclosed to the defense.
Michelle’s 15-week-old son was brutally stabbed to death on September 12, 1994. Michelle, just 17 at the time, was in her apartment with her son and two year old daughter on the night of the murder. Murphy later woke up and discovered her son’s body in the kitchen. She immediately went to a neighbor and called the police.
After hours of interrogation, Michelle, who was very young and had just learned that her son had been brutally murdered, was coerced into claiming that she accidentally killed her baby when she knelt down to pick up a knife following a confrontation with a neighbor. At her trial, the prosecution also falsely implied to the jury that blood recovered from the scene matched Murphy’s blood type. Michelle was convicted and sentenced to life without parole.
On the eve of being called to the witness stand to testify regarding what was known about the blood evidence at trial, the District Attorney moved to overturn Murphy’s conviction on May 30th, and she was released. Subsequent DNA testing found that blood evidence at the scene did not come from Michelle but from an unknown male. Based on this, and with the District Attorney’s consent, the court entered an order dismissing the charges based on a showing of actual innocence.
After More Than Twenty Years, Conviction Overturned in Philadelphia
With the consent of the Philadelphia district attorney, a Court of Common Pleas judge granted Anthony Wright’s motion to overturn his conviction. Anthony served 23 years for a rape and murder that new DNA testing reveals was committed by another man with a long criminal history. In addition, DNA testing of clothing alleged by police to have been worn by Anthony to commit the crime, now shows that the clothes were not, in fact, his.
Police claimed that after merely 14 minutes in custody, Anthony voluntarily gave a full and complete signed confession to the 1991 rape and murder of 77-year-old North Philadelphia resident Louise Talley. Anthony, however, who was just 20 years old when he was arrested, has always maintained his innocence and testified that he only signed the alleged confession, which the police wrote out, after the interrogating detectives threatened him with bodily harm. Subsequent to securing the confession, police also claimed that they recovered from Anthony’s home the bloody clothes that he wore on the night of the crime. DNA testing now proves that the clothing actually belonged to the victim, which raises serious questions about where the police actually recovered the clothing.
The testing of the rape excluded Anthony as the source and identified Ronnie Byrd as the real perpetrator. Ronnie had a long criminal record, which included crimes in and around Philadelphia, but died in South Carolina in early 2013 and was never able to be questioned about the crime or prosecuted for it.
Wright was surrounded by his relatives when he received the news in court that his conviction was reversed. The case was adjourned to give the district attorney’s office time to conduct further investigation and decide whether it intends to retry Wright for the crime. Read more.
Two Men in Brooklyn Have Convictions Overturned, Charges Dismissed
A panel of New York state appeals court judges have unanimously reversed the convictions and dismissed the indictments against Everton Wagstaffe and Reginald Conner, two Brooklyn men who were found guilty of murder and kidnapping more than two decades ago. The Innocence Project has been consulting on the case since 2006.
Post-conviction DNA testing revealed foreign hairs on the victim’s body that did not come from Everton or Reginald. But the ruling was based primarily on the fact that prosecutors violated the defendant’s constitutional rights by burying documents that might have shown that detectives and the prime witness, Brunilda Capella, who has serious substance abuse problems, had lied.
Reginald, now 46, served 15 years and works for a film production company while Everton, 45, remains in state prison where he has been in custody since his arrest in January 1992. Read more.