“This is just theatrics.”
- Defense Counsel Neal Davis in relation to the Prosecution's use of a bed in Court
It was the 15th of January 2003. A Wednesday. Twenty six year old Susan Wright went to the police station and told police that she needed help. She wanted to make a domestic abuse report and file criminal charges against her husband Jeffrey Jeff Wright. Susan told police that on the 13th of January, Jeff attacked her son and then her. She had marks and cuts on the palm of her hands which she said were caused by his keys when he violently grabbed her, twisted her arms and shoved her against the wall. When police asked Susan where Jeff was now, she said that she did not know. The last time she saw him was the Monday night after the assault when he left the house and said:
"F**k this house. I am tired of you and the kids."
Susan lived with thirty four year old Jeff and their two children, who were just four years old and eighteen months at the time, in a house in Harris County, Texas, United States. They were married for four years. On foot of Susan's report, a warrant was issued for Jeff's arrest. Where was he?
Susan and Jeff Wright
A few days after Susan reported the alleged assault to the police, she called her Attorney and parents and asked them to meet her at her home. There was something she needed to confess. Susan told them that she knew where Jeff was. He was in the backyard. She told her mother, Sue Wyche, that she killed Jeff on the Monday night and that she "did it with a knife" and that "it happened in the bedroom and the kids were in bed" and "he was in the hole he dug."
Susan told Sue:
"Momma, it wasn't me, I snapped. I was up there and I saw somebody do it but it wasn't me."
Susan went to the police station with her Attorney and told them that Jeff was dead. Her Attorney claimed that it was self defense after years of beatings at the hands of Jeff.
Police went to Susan's house and found Jeff's body buried in the backyard. She was charged with first degree murder.
It was the Prosecution's case that Susan Wright was no battered wife but was a cold and calculated killer. It was their case that she intentionally stabbed her husband to death so that she could claim his $200,000 life insurance policy. It was their case that she then tried to cover up the evidence before concocting a story detailing abuse at the hands of Jeff for a number of years for the benefit of the Jury.
It was the Prosecution's case that Susan planned to kill Jeff the night of the 7th of March and when he got home after his boxing class, she seduced him and as part of the act, tied him to the bed using neckties and a bathrobe sash. The Court heard that candle wax was found on Jeff's thigh and scrotum. It was the Prosecution's case that when he was tied securely to the bed, the Prosecution believed that Susan brought two knives into the bedroom and stabbed Jeff to death. The Court heard that almost 200 stab wounds were found on Jeff's body. He had been viciously and violently stabbed over and over again in a sustained and brutal attack. To demonstrate just how violent the Prosecution believed the murder was, they brought the actual bed which Jeff had been tied to into the Courtroom and the Prosecutor demonstrated exactly how she believed Jeff was stabbed.
The Prosecutor showed the Jury that she believed that Susan straddled Jeff and stabbed him repeatedly when he was tied to the bed and couldn't move. She showed the Jury how she believed the knife was held and how some of the stab wounds were like slice wounds and that the length was greater than the width indicating that the blade was parallel with the body.
In relation to the injuries on Jeff's legs, the Prosecutor showed the Jury how it would be more consistent with Susan being on the side of Jeff's body instead of straddling him when inflicting those particular wounds which indicated that the attack wasn't self defense but a planned and sustained attack.
It was the Prosecution's case that Susan then tied his body to a dolly and dragged him out to the backyard. She buried him in a hole that he dug himself in preparation for a new fountain.
The Medical Examiner testified and told the Court he went to the backyard where Jeff was buried and observed his nude body partially buried in the backyard beside the patio. He testified that there were ligatures bound on each of his wrists and one of his ankles. A necktie was tied around each wrist and a part of a bathrobe sash was tied around his right ankle.
The Medical Examiner testified that there were over 193 stab wounds on Jeff's body. The Court heard that almost all of the stab wounds were inflicted to the front of Jeff's body. This matched with the Prosecution's case that Jeff was lying on the bed on his back when he was tied to the bed. The Medical Examiner told the Jury that with the exception of the wound to Jeff's brain, none of the stab wounds, singularly, were immediately incapacitating or even fatal.
Jeff suffered 41 stab wounds to his face, 23 to his neck, 46 to his chest, 22 to his abdomen, 7 to his pubic region, including a superficial cut on his penis, 19 to his legs, 23 to his arms and hand, and one to his back.
The cause of death was determined as multiple sharp force injuries.
The Court heard that a mattress was found in the backyard of the home. The mattress was heavily saturated with blood. In the bedroom, there was blood all over the walls, the ceiling and the furniture in the room. A portion of the carpet and carpet padding had been cut out and removed from the floor. Police also found empty bottles of bleach and clothing that had been bleached. A receipt for two gallons of bleach, bleach stained size 6 jeans, and a towel were found. The Court heard that a knife covered in blood was found inside the house. The tip of the knife was missing. It was later established that it had broken off in Jeff's scalp.
Jeff's mother testified. She told the Court that she spoke to Jeff the night of the 7th of March as he was driving home from a boxing lesson. She heard from Susan later that same night. Susan told her that Jeff was under the influence of narcotics when he arrived home and that he had struck their young son. She testified that Susan told her that she told him to leave the house and he left.
The Court heard that in the days before Jeff's body was found, Susan made an appointment with a physician and had the cuts on her hand treated and told many people that Jeff had left. But, the Prosecution told the Jury, that her account of what happened the night of the 7th of March changed depending on who she spoke to.
Susan said that the cuts on her hand were caused by Jeff's keys and then claimed his fingernails caused the marks. She told others she was terrified he would return to hurt her, despite knowing at the time he was buried in their backyard. Susan also claimed that Jeff had returned home to destroy the property and that he poured bleach on her clothing and left her a note.
She told a doctor that she stabbed Jeff after they had sex and he had fallen asleep. But she later gave a different account and claimed that Jeff physically and sexually assaulted her before threatening her with a knife which caused her to take the knife and stab him in self defense.
The Court heard that Susan changed the outgoing message on the family's voicemail system to one that did not include Jeff's name.
Toxicology reports confirmed the presence of alcohol, cocaine, and GHB, commonly referred to as a “date-rape drug,” in Jeff's blood at the time before his death.
It was the Defense's case that Susan stabbed Jeff but only did so in self defense. The Court heard that Susan was a stay at home mother who was deeply unhappy and they claimed that she had suffered years of abuse at the hands of Jeff.
Susan testified. The Court heard that when Jeff got home the night of the 7th of March, from a boxing lesson, he had red, glassy eyes and was extremely agitated.
Susan testified that he wanted his four year old son to box and when he wouldn't he hit him in the face.
The Court heard that Jeff had a shower and entered their bedroom wearing a towel. At that point, Susan claimed she gave him an ultimatum. She told Jeff that he needed to get help with his drug abuse and anger as she “couldn't take anymore.”
Susan told the Court that that made Jeff angry and he threw her on to the ground and kicked her. Jeff sexually assaulted her. She opened her eyes when she heard the words “Die, bitch,” and that was when she saw a knife in his right hand.
Susan testified that she grabbed the knife, and it hit her knee causing her leg to jerk up and hit Jeff in the groin. She got the knife and pushed him off her and stabbed him in the neck. According to Susan, Jeff tried to take back the knife so she stabbed him in the chest. She testified that she could not stop stabbing Jeff as she was afraid he would kill her.
Jeff and Susan Wright
Susan told the Court that at one point, her son knocked on the door of the bedroom and that caused her to stop stabbing Jeff. She tied Jeff's right arm to the bed while she put her son to bed. Susan testified that when she went back into the bedroom she continued to stab Jeff but claimed it was due to fear. After a period of time, she decided to move Jeff's body and when she tried to drag him, his head and shoulder hit the nightstand and a candle that was on the nightstand fell onto Jeff. She tied him to a dolly by the ankles and left arm and pushed the dolly out to the patio.
The Court heard that throughout their marriage, Susan claimed that Jeff had multiple affairs and was involved in narcotics. She also claimed he was physically abusive to her and his four year old son.
The Defense called a number of witnesses to testify. A number of witnesses testified that they saw Susan in the past with a black eye, a bruise on her forehead and her sister testified that she observed bruises on her body on a number of occasions. She told the Court that he would give Susan $75 every week and she had to ensure that was enough to cover the cost of food and things required for the household and she had to ensure the house was immaculate at all times. If she didn't he would beat her.
Family members testified that Susan seemed afraid that Jeff would harm her in the days leading up to his body being found.
The Court heard testimony from Dr Brown. Dr Brown, a psychiatrist, evaluated Susan at the request of her Attorney and he testified that Susan was depressed, disassociated from reality, easily frightened, and paranoid that Jeff would return to harm her. He believed she suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. Dr Brown classified her as a battered woman.
To support their battered woman syndrome defense, the Defense called two expert witnesses to testify.
One expert testified that Susan appeared to suffer from emotional abuse, intimidation, threats, financial stress, verbal abuse, and isolation from family members at Jeff's hands.
Both experts testified that in their opinion, the most dangerous time in an abused woman's life, is when the woman tries to leave the abusive spouse. When asked about an abusive spouse who was asleep at the time of an attack, the expert argued that that can still be seen as an imminent threat to a battered woman due to the ongoing abuse they suffered.
The Court heard that Jeff had a prior criminal history involving possession of a controlled substance and misdemeanor assault on an ex-girlfriend. The ex-girlfriend testified and told the Court that Jeff had physically assaulted her when they were in a relationship.
Susan Wright testifying at her Trial
In the Judge's charge, at the conclusion of the Trial, the Judge instructed the Jury to consider the special issue of whether Susan caused the death under the immediate influence of sudden passion arising from an adequate cause.
After five hours of deliberation, the Jury found Susan guilty of first degree murder. She was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Susan appealed and was granted a new sentencing hearing. The court of criminal appeals ruled her Attorney was ineffective during the punishment phase of her Trial. At the new sentencing hearing, she was sentenced to twenty years instead of the original twenty five year term.
Susan had been denied parole twice, but was granted it in July 2020. At the time of her release, she was forty four years old. A local television news crew from WPXI approached Susan to ask her for a comment and she said:
"I would just like privacy. Please respect that. I'm sure that y'all can understand, but don't do this to my family. Even if you do it to me, don't do this to them, please."
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"But I'm a woman, and as the great poet so cleverly wrote, hell hath no fury as a woman scorned. Consider me your personal hell."
"Trust your hunches. They're usually based on facts filed away just below the conscious level."
-Dr Joyce Brothers
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