Back in the Spring of 2004, I got the opportunity to sit second chair with Kelly Siegler on the State of Texas vs. Susan Wright -- a highly publicized murder case at the time which was made even more highly publicized during trial.
The short version of the case was that a young mother tied her husband, Jeff Wright, to their bed and stabbed him over 190 times before burying him in a flower bed right outside their bedroom door. She then reported him to the police as having beaten her and then left their home on foot. For a more detailed version of the case, here is an article I wrote for TDCAA several years ago.
The case got National attention when Kelly had us reconstruct the bed in the middle of Judge Jim Wallace's courtroom and did a re-enactment of the stabbing for the jury. (NOTE: No, I was not the dude in the bed. That was Paul Doyle.)
Ultimately, Susan Wright was convicted of the murder of her husband and was sentenced to 25 years in TDCJ. The jury had rejected a claim of "Sudden Passion" (which would have capped sentencing at 20 years) and had also rejected the State's request for 45 years.
Almost immediately, the verdict was attacked both in the Press and in the Appellate Courts by the shy and demure Brian Wice. He took on Susan Wright's case and for the past five years has fought like a mad man to get her a new trial. Brian is a good friend of mine, and although we were on opposite sides of this particular issue, I truly respect the work he did on this case.
Last year, he and Carmen Roe took the case to a hearing in front of Judge Wallace making the claim that Wright's defense counsel had been ineffective for failing to put forth an effective Battered Woman Defense. Specifically, Brian and Carmen were arguing that defense counsel had erred in not putting on witness Mistie McMichael (Jeff Wright's ex-girlfriend who alleged abuse by him) and an expert on Battered Woman's Syndrome.
Although Judge Wallace did not have the power to overturn the case, he did make findings agreeing with Brian's assertions that there was ineffective assistance, and the case was then taken to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. In a ruling that I will admit absolutely stunned me, the Court ruled 9-0 that Susan Wright deserved a new punishment hearing.
With that ruling, the ball is now thrown into the District Attorney's court to see what they want to do with Wright's case on punishment. Both Kelly Siegler and I are both gone from the D.A.'s Office now, obviously, so new prosecutors will be making the decisions.
The case goes back to the 263rd District Court with Judge Wallace. Mia Magness is the Chief in that court now and she is one of the best trial prosecutors that the D.A.'s Office still has left. You might remember her from that little Clara Harris trial awhile back.
But the chances of the Wright case actually going back to trial aren't in Mia's hands at the moment. The decision of whether or not to plea bargain the case away is in the hands of Pat Lykos and Jim Leitner.
What they will decide to do with the Wright case will be a pretty big statement on their feelings for victim's advocacy and how much they will bow down to the defense bar.
Obviously, Wice and Wright would love nothing more than to get a plea offer of time served. The Office could accomplish this by letting her to plead to 5 years TDCJ. In lieu of that, the Office could also plead her to 10 years TDCJ making Wright automatically eligible for parole.
I hope they don't. And here's why:
-Susan Wright was convicted of tying her husband to a bed and stabbing him over 193 times.
-the number 193 is an under-estimated count, because as Dr. Dwayne Wolfe testified, there were so many wounds that many of them ran in together and couldn't be counted individually.
-Wright testified that she went for her husband's eyes first when the stabbing began.
-Wright also testified that in the middle of the stabbing, she was interrupted by the couple's young son, who she had to put back to bed. (Can you imagine what she looked like walking down the hall with him?)
-Wright went to great efforts to disassemble her bedroom and clean it with paint and bleach.
-while Jeff Wright's body was being desecrated by the family dog in the back yard, Susan had the audacity to go file a police report that he had assaulted her.
I expect supporters of Susan Wright to claim she was a battered woman, but her claims weren't even close to credible. During trial, she testified to only three specific incidents of abuse (while saying that Jeff beat her continuously, she could only remember these three).
The three incidents were as follows:
1. An incident where Susan had a small bruise under her eye. She told neighbors that her son had accidentally popped her in the face with an action figure. The neighbor saw the action figure and saw it was consistent with the size of the bruise.
2. An incident where Jeff (who was a very large and strong man, especially when compared to Susan's small frame) had repeatedly slammed her hand in a heavy door. She admitted under Kelly's cross-examination that her hand was not broken and she never sought medical treatment for it. Her description was rejected by the jury.
3. An assault the night of the murder which had led to bruising on her arms and legs. All the bruising on the arms and legs were consistent with somebody banging themselves up while moving a body and disassembling a bed.
And let's not forget that Jeff Wright's body was found with ties around both wrists and both ankles, with corresponding ties found tied to the bed frame. There was also candle wax dripped on his genitalia.
The crime scene was much more indicative of kinky sex than an assault, folks.
So, Pat and Jim, you've got a decision to make.
Susan Wright tortured her husband and the father of her children and killed him about as brutally as one can imagine. Jeff Wright was far from the perfect husband, but he didn't do the things Susan claimed. Her claims of domestic abuse are an affront to all the real victims of domestic violence out there.
Quite frankly, 25 years TDCJ was a gift from the jury.
If you guys are interested in doing the job you were elected to do, it's time to make a statement.
One of your best prosecutors could retry this case in a heartbeat and leave Susan Wright wishing for that 25 years.
Or you can just surrender and plead her out to back time.
If I were you, I'd take this case back to trial.