Judge denies new bail hearing for former death row inmate

DOVER — A judge has refused to hold a new a bail hearing for a man released from prison last year after more than two decades on Delaware’s death row and now being retried in a 1991 slaying.

In a ruling issued Thursday, Superior Court Judge Eric Davis agreed with prosecutors that a judge’s 1991 ruling that Jermaine Wright was not entitled to bail was the “law of the case” and should not be revisited.

Wright was sentenced to death in 1992 for the killing of Phillip Seifert, 66, a clerk at a liquor store and bar outside Wilmington. After reversing a judge’s 2012 ruling overturning Wright’s conviction anddeath sentence, Delaware’s Supreme Court itself overturned the conviction in 2014.

But earlier this year, the Supreme Court said a judge erred in declaring that Wright’s 1991 confession was inadmissible, ruling instead that the confession could be used at his retrial. That decision cleared the way for prosecutors to refile charges against Wright, who was taken back into custody.

Wright’s attorneys subsequently argued that he was entitled to a new bail hearing, saying potentially exculpatory information suggesting that Seifert may have been killed by two men who tried to rob another nearby liquor store less than an hour earlier was not discussed at the 1991 hearing. They also said the judge was unaware of the coercive nature of Wright’s police interrogation and confession.

Under Delaware’s Constitution, a person charged with capital murder is not entitled to bail if a judge finds there is “proof positive or presumption great” that he or she committed the crime. Under the law of the case doctrine, a Delaware court is prohibited from revisiting issues previously decided, with narrow exceptions for issues that are clearly wrong, would produce an injustice or should be revisited because of changed circumstances.

Davis ruled that the arguments by Wright’s attorneys failed to meet any of the criteria for him to revisit the 1991 bail decision.

Wright’s videotaped confession, after a lengthy interrogation while he was under the influence of heroin, was key to his conviction, as prosecutors had no physical evidence linking him to the crime.

Before declaring Wright’s confession inadmissible last year, Superior Court Judge John Parkins Jr. overturned his conviction and death sentence in 2012, saying Wright was not properly advised of his rights, and that prosecutors withheld evidence about the earlier attempted robbery. The Supreme Court overturned Parkins, saying arguments about the confession were procedurally barred, and that evidence about the earlier robbery attempt would not have led to a different result.

But the Supreme Court itself overturned Wright’s conviction in 2014 after his attorneys argued that prosecutors failed to disclose potentially helpful information to the defense regarding a jailhouse informant and another witness who testified against Wright.

Herb Mondros, an attorney for Wright, said Friday that he looks forward to being exonerated at his retrial next year.

Randall Chase writes for the Associated Press

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.