Delaware Online


Judge overturns 1991 murder conviction, death sentence

January 3, 2012

by Sean O'Sullivan

WILMINGTON – The second-longest serving inmate on Delaware’s death row may be freed on bail as soon as next week.

At a hearing that left prosecutors speechless today, Superior Court Judge John A. Parkins overturned the conviction and death sentence against Jermaine Marlow Wright for the 1991 slaying of liquor store clerk Phillip Seifert.

Parkins furthermore said that he had “no confidence” in the evidence against Wright and he plans to hold a hearing next week that appears likely to result in Wright – who has been on Delaware’s death row for 21 years – being released on bail.

Besides Wright, the only person who has been sitting on Delaware’s death row longer is Robert Gattis, who is set to die by lethal injection later this month.

Family and friends of Wright in the courtroom erupted in cheers when Parkins announced that the conviction was "Constitutionally infirm" before being quieted by bailiffs.

Wright was tried, convicted and sentenced to death, twice, for the Jan. 14, 1991, slaying of liquor store clerk Phillip Seifert during a robbery at the Hi-Way Inn on Gov. Printz Boulevard.

Seifert's family members chose not to attend today's proceeding and afterward prosecutors - who were clearly stunned by the ruling - declined immediate comment saying a statement would be issued later.

Wright attorney Jim Moreno said the ruling was clear vindication for his client.

In his comments from the bench, Judge Parkins described the killing of Seifert, 66, an amputee who was filing in for his brother the owner, as "brutal and senseless."

However, Parkins also said that the chief investigating police officer "did not advise the prosecutors of evidence" which may have shown the defendant was innocent. Parkins also ruled that the Miranda rights warning that was given to Wright after his arrest -- where he essentially confessed -- was so flawed that it may have misled Wright into thinking he only had a right to an attorney "if the state felt he needed one."

Parkins concluded his comments by apologizing to the family and friends of Seifert saying he knew that the decision was likely to cause them further anguish and frustration. "Nonetheless, the court stands as a guardian of the constitutional rights of every citizen, including those of the defendant," Parkins said, "and that is what this court has done today."

Contact Sean O’Sullivan at 324-2777 or sosullivan@delawareonline.com.

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