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Guest Commentary: Carlos Vega’s “Win At All Costs” Prosecution

The niece of a 1991 murder victim says the former homicide prosecutor helped keep an innocent man in jail despite evidence that should have freed him—traumatizing him and her family.

Guest Commentary: Carlos Vega’s “Win At All Costs” Prosecution

The niece of a 1991 murder victim says the former homicide prosecutor helped keep an innocent man in jail despite evidence that should have freed him—traumatizing him and her family.

In 1993, a Philadelphia jury convicted Tony Wright of raping and murdering my aunt, Louise Talley. Prosecutors told my family that the trial would bring us both the closure and the healing we badly needed, but nothing could have been further from the truth.

Over the next 25 years, any hope of healing unraveled as we learned that the police had fabricated a confession from Tony and lied about other evidence to convict him. The prosecutor had used my aunt’s trauma as a tool to inflict pain and suffering on another innocent victim.


MORE ON THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY RACE


After Tony spent 20 years in prison, DNA testing showed that someone else committed the rape and murder— someone who could have easily been a suspect in the case from the beginning, had the police and prosecutors done their jobs properly and ethically. The court reversed Tony’s conviction.

Incredibly, prosecutors—including Carlos Vega, who is now trying to unseat Larry Krasner in his bid for district attorney—decided to retry Tony, keeping him behind bars for years awaiting retrial. They knew about the DNA evidence that pointed to another man, but they didn’t care.

Mr. Vega and his team relentlessly pursued Tony, feeding me and the rest of my family false information about the facts of the case. Prosecutors even told us the DNA was inconclusive, which was patently false. The jury acquitted Tony in an hour, and when Larry Krasner took office in 2018, his Conviction Integrity Unit agreed that Tony was innocent.

Carlos Vega did not treat me, or my family, with the respect, honesty, and compassion we as victims deserved. He has only increased my family’s tremendous suffering.

Vega’s actions caused rippling and lasting damage to my family, and to Tony and his family, but like so many people with power whose mistakes are laid bare, Vega has refused to closely examine, rethink or reconsider his own actions and behavior. Now, my family and I, abandoned and tormented by the approach to prosecution that Vega admires so much, are reliving that pain as he tries to take over the top law enforcement job in the city.

I cringe at the thought that we might go back to a District Attorney’s office where prosecutors run roughshod over the legal system while poor, vulnerable, and disadvantaged citizens get the short end of the stick. That is what has happened with the offices run by Lynne Abraham, Seth Williams, and Ron Castille. Each one enacted policies focused on winning, rather than on uncovering the truth.

Under these administrations, people cheated and lied, even if it meant that, decades later, families like mine would learn that the D.A.’s office had not only failed to obtain justice for our loss, but had also knowingly sent the wrong person to prison. Under D.A. Krasner, 18 people have been exonerated in less than four years. It is terrifying to imagine how many other innocent people may be sitting behind bars.

These types of injustices make our city less safe, not more so. Under Lynne Abraham, Philadelphia was a dangerous place, more so than it is now. People did not trust the police, and witnesses did not show up for trial or even speak to prosecutors. As a result, guilty people got away with devastating crimes, and innocent people were locked up. And as I can attest, victims were treated with respect only if they cooperated with prosecutors’ demands and agreed to believe the falsehoods they perpetuated.

Carlos Vega did not treat me, or my family, with the respect, honesty, and compassion we as victims deserved. He did me no favors by lying to me, misleading me, and punishing an innocent man. He has only increased my family’s tremendous suffering.

Carlos Vega flourished in a prosecutorial culture of winning-at-all-costs, no matter the collateral damage inflicted. Krasner has started to change that, by exonerating the innocent, holding police accountable, and by carefully examining the policies that broke community trust while failing to increase safety. The city needs to keep marching forward to this drumbeat of change, leaving behind the atrocities of prior administrations. I know that Carlos Vega will only bring them back, and we cannot allow that to happen.


Shannon Coleman is Louise Talley’s niece. She works at Blue Cross Blue Shield, and is the proud mother of two children and has also raised two amazing nephews. Her daughter is a paralegal in D.A. Krasner’s Conviction Integrity Unit.

Correction: Since this story published, The Citizen removed speculations about Carlos Vega’s motivations.

Header photo: Vega for DA

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