RAIFORD, FLORIDA – After three years spent on Florida’s Death Row for a crime he did not commit, former Air Force Sergeant, Ralph Wright, Jr. has been freed. His release today makes him Florida’s 27th exonerated death row survivor, and the 159th person exonerated from death row in the United States since 1973, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Wright’s release today highlights the serious and tragic flaws in Florida’s death penalty system as Florida continues to have by far the nation’s highest number of exonerations of wrongfully convicted people on death row. Prior to his conviction, Mr. Wright is reported to have never been in trouble with the law and had no prior criminal record.
On May 11, 2017, the Florida Supreme Court directed that Wright be acquitted of all charges related to the murders of his ex-girlfriend and their son, ruling that the “purely circumstantial” evidence against him was insufficient to convict. At the time of his conviction in 2014, Florida did not require a unanimous jury recommendation for death. In Wright’s case, the jury voted 7-5, a bare majority, to recommend the death penalty. Since the U.S. Supreme Court declared Florida’s sentencing scheme for non-unanimous jury recommendations for death to be unconstitutional, the legislature passed a bill, which was signed by Governor Rick Scott in March of this year to now require a unanimous jury recommendation in death penalty sentencing. While this requirement fixes one of the many flaws in Florida’s death penalty system, it remains a fatally-flawed, wasteful, and unnecessary government program.
Responding to Wright’s release, Mark Elliott, director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty stated:
“If an Air Force Sergeant and former Orange County Deputy Sheriff with no criminal record can be wrongfully convicted and sent to death row, it can happen to anyone.”
“The exonerations of twenty-seven innocent people on Florida’s Death Row demonstrate the catastrophic failure of a pretentious government program trying to play God.”
“It’s time to pull the plug on this wasteful, mistake-ridden, and unnecessary big government program that puts blood on all our hands.”