At just 20 years old Tony White stood before a judge and received a life sentence for the rape and stabbing of his 71-year-old neighbor Louise Talley. For the past two decades, Mr. Wright sat in prison with the knowledge and the burden of knowing that he was, in fact, innocent of the crimes he was sentenced for.

Lawyers with the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization that is based in New York City took up his case. Lawyers from the innocence project were able to secure DNA evidence that showed that Mr. Wright was not in fact the one who committed the 1991 rape of his neighbor. However, despite the DNA evidence that Mr. Wright was not connected to the rape and murder of his neighbor, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office insisted on retrying the case back in 2014.

At his original trial, Mr. Wright was facing the death penalty and he narrowly escaped being sentenced to death, however, the original jury could rule 7 to 5 in favor of life in prison over the death sentence.

Despite the Innocence Project submitting the evidence that the clothing that police alleged was Mr. Wright’s was not, in fact, his.  However, despite this evidence, the District Attorney’s office stood behind their decision based on “the totality of the evidence.”  The case was re-tried before a jury, and last week a jury of his sat in a room and deliberated for an hour before they returned a verdict of not guilty, which effectively acquitted him of the rape and murder charges that had kept him behind bars for the past two decades.

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Mr. Wright Was Facing The Death Penalty

It is rare that a case is overturned, however, it is not unheard of.  In fact, just last week a man in New Jersey, who was wrongfully convicted of rape, had his sentence and conviction formally cleared from his record by a State Superior Court in Freehold New Jersey. However, Mr. Harrell’s store highlights concerns of not just prison sentences but other ramifications of a criminal conviction.

Mr. Dion Harrell was convicted over 30 years ago for the rape of a teenage girl.  In September of 1988, a 22-year-old Dion Harrell was arrested for the rape of a 17-year-old girl who was walking home from her job in Long Branch New Jersey. The victim immediately identified Dion as the one who raped her. In 1992, he was found guilty of her rape and served four years in prison from 1993 to 1997. However, once he was released from prison, he began what he described as his second sentence. He was required to register under New Jersey’s sex offender statute, which is known as Megan’s Law.

Megan’s law is a law, which requires those who have been convicted of certain sexual crimes to register with the local authorities. In many cases, a person who is required to register under Megan’s law is prohibited from living in certain places, and with certain people. In Mr. Harrell’s case, at one point he was not allowed to live with his sister who had two minor children. In addition to his well-documented hardships finding suitable living, his photo was publicly posted on the internet and identified him as a sex offender.

Opponents of Megan’s Law registration have equated his treatment as a “civic death.” Mr. Harrell was not able to engage in the community, and was regularly denied housing from landlords, faced public scrutiny on social media, and was unable to find gainful employment.  Similar to Mr. White, Harrell reached out fo the Innocence Project for help. He knew that if he were able to get DNA evidence, that he would be able to clear his name.

It took some legal magic, including asking for an exception from the then enacted law that only allowed defendants still in prison to a DNA test, but after the Monmouth County granted an exception, DNA tests revealed that he was not connected to the unfortunate rape.

On July 22, 2016, the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s office announced that he would move to have Mr. Harrell’s conviction thrown out. This would effectively remove his name from the sex offender’s list.

Why Working With an Atlantic City Criminal Lawyer Helps Your Case

These two cases highlight a problem in the criminal justice system; innocent people are sentenced to jail and are often left with no way to prove their innocence.  That is why having a skilled Atlantic City criminal defense attorney from the beginning of your case is so essential.  While it is impossible to dig into the facts behind these two cases to know exactly what happened before, during, and after trial, it does highlight the importance of contacting an attorney the moment you are arrested.  An attorney can represent you throughout the entirety of the criminal process.  An attorney can represent you at the following:

During the investigation, charge, and arrest – The criminal process often begins far removed from the court room. Charges normally begin when a person is indicted by a grand jury or they are arrested. However, if you have not been arrested or charged with a crime, but the police have asked to question you, then you are at least under investigation. There are hundreds of cases and individuals who would not be in jail right now if they had an attorney with them from the beginning. An attorney who has experience representing criminal defendants will be able to protect your constitutional rights from the onset and may even prevent charges from being inappropriately filed against you.

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  • First appearance – If you have been charged with a crime, your first interaction with the court and the judge will be at the first appearance where your charges are read to you and you will be asked to enter an initial plea.
  • Status conferences and plea negotiations – Many people are not aware that there are multiple steps and meetings before a case goes to trial. In many cases, a client and their attorney will appear in court for a series of these meetings with the judge and the opposing counsel, these are known as status conferences. During these conferences, both sides may make demands for discovery, file certain pre-trail motions. In addition, plea offers are often presented and addressed at these hearings.
  • Pre-trail conferences – these meetings are implemented to ensure that the accused defendant understand the potential convictions and sentences that can be imposed on them if they are found guilty. Part of the purpose of these conferences is also to ensure that the defendant understands and that they are making a voluntary decision in regards to a plea offer. In addition, during a pre-trail conference any outstanding discovery and evidentiary issues will be resolved.
  • Trial – The trial has been popularized and fictionalized by movies and television shows. However, a true criminal trial is not Hollywood. The trial is an essential part of a criminal case and if you do not have a skilled attorney standing next to you, you run the risk of losing your case.
  • Post-trial motions – At the end of the trial if you are convicted of a crime and sentenced to jail, there are still procedures that an attorney can utilize on your behalf.

At the Law Offices of John J. Zarych, you can count on our attorneys to provide you with a thorough examination of your case. If you retain our firm, we will review your case with you and make sure you understand the process. We will take the time to answer your questions and address any fears you may be having.