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Delaware Supreme Court hears Jermaine Wright death penalty arguments

Tom Byrne/Delaware Public Media

The freedom of a man recently released from Delaware’s death row is now in the hands of the state Supreme Court.

Convicted of murder in a liquor store in 1992, the case against Jermaine Wright relied on a heroin-fueled confession and an anonymous note sent to police pointing to him as the suspect.

Wright’s facts about the case offered during the confession didn’t match up with state evidence, like the caliber of the gun, how many shots were fired or how the body of the victim was positioned.

Superior Court Judge John Parkins Jr. also found Wright wasn’t sufficiently read his Miranda rights during three interrogations – two of which weren’t video taped.

Parkins ordered he be released from prison in February pending appeal from the state, more than 20 years after his conviction.

But Chief Justice Leo Strine Jr. hammered both the defense and prosecution Wednesday, asking how the court is supposed to weigh a case that’s been litigated several times without new evidence – regardless of how compelling it might be.

“The reality is, this golf course has been trodden every which way. In the interest of justice, can any significant and compelling case just be reopened?” said Strine.

State prosecutors agreed, since much of the defense’s argument is based on existing testimony that has been reviewed several times.

“A defendant is not entitled to have the court reexamine an issue simply because an argument is refined or restated,” said deputy attorney general Elizabeth McFarlan.

Defense attorney Allison Mielke spent much of her 25 minutes arguing Wright’s low IQ, high suggestibility and the lengthy interrogation period should still be considered in the decision.

All charges have been dropped against Wright, but should justices overturn Parkins’ decision and allow the state to use the taped confession, new charges are almost certain to be filed.

Death penalty repeal advocates have been citing the case for months as one of several reasons to overturn capital punishment in Delaware.

Legislation to do just that has been bottled up in a House committee for the past three years, with Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach) strongly opposing alternative ways to get it to the floor for a full vote.

State senators narrowly approved the bill in 2013 and earlier this year and after years of remaining mum on the issue, Gov. Jack Markell (D) came out in favor of repealing the death penalty this spring.

A ruling on the case is expected within 90 days.

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