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Bail set at $200K cash for former death row inmate

WILMINGTON, Del. — Overriding objections from prosecutors, a Superior Court judge on Monday set bail at $200,000 cash for a former death row inmate accused of killing a liquor store clerk during a 1991 robbery.

Judge John Parkins rejected arguments by prosecutors that he did not have jurisdiction to set bail for Jermaine Wright. He set bail at $200,000 cash only and told Wright that if he were able to make bail, he also would be subject to intense pretrial supervision and GPS monitoring.

Parkins agreed to stay his ruling for two days to allow the state to appeal but said he believes prosecutors have little chance of winning an appeal challenging his jurisdiction.

Prosecutors already have appealed Parkins’ January decision overturning Wright’s conviction and death sentence to the Delaware Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear arguments May 30.

Deputy attorney general Paul Wallace said prosecutors plan to consolidate their appeal of Parkins’ bail ruling with the existing appeal of his decision overturning Wright’s conviction. It’s unclear whether the Supreme Court would extend the two-day stay of the bail ruling pending the May 30 hearing.

Defense attorney James Moreno said after Monday’s hearing that he was pleased with the judge’s decision but acknowledged it’s “a lot of cash” when asked if Wright had any chance of making bail.

Defense attorneys had suggested bail of $10,000, with 10 percent down. Prosecutor Gregory Smith argued Wright’s bail, if granted, should be around $500,000.

Smith told Parkins that Wright would likely flee if the Supreme Court were to overturn Parkins’ January decision, leaving Wright again facing a death sentence.

“There is no need for this court to take that risk,” Smith said.

Parkins, however, noted there was scant evidence connecting Wright, 39, to the January 1991 murder of liquor store clerk Phillip Seifert, 65.

In overturning Wright’s conviction and death sentence, Parkins ruled that a confession Wright gave to police during an interrogation that lasted nearly 13 hours was defective because he had not been properly advised of his rights against self-incrimination and to have an attorney appointed to represent him.

“Aside from Wright’s confession, the case against him was weak to non-existent,” wrote Parkins, who also ruled that the chief investigating officer failed to advise prosecutors, and thereby defense attorneys, of evidence that could possibly exonerate him.

Wright spent more time on death row than any other Delaware inmate currently facing execution.

After Parkins overturned Wright’s conviction and ordered a bail hearing, the state appealed to the Delaware Supreme Court, which subsequently granted a request by Wright’s attorneys to send the case back to Parkins solely for a bail hearing. The state objected, arguing among other things that Parkins did not have authority to hold a bail hearing pending a resolution of their Supreme Court appeal, and that, in most instances, a person charged with a capital crime is not entitled to bail.

Parkins disagreed, noting that denial of bail for capital crimes under the state constitution applies when the “proof is positive or presumption great” that the defendant is rightly charged.

The judge nevertheless set bail relatively high, noting that if the Supreme Court were to overturn his January decision, Wright likely would be “long gone” when he learned that he was again facing the death penalty.

“Wouldn’t any reasonable person upon hearing that news leave town?” the judge asked.

On the other hand, Parkins said that if the Supreme Court upholds his decision overturning Wright’s conviction and death sentence, Wright can expect a significant reduction in his bail amount.