New punishment trial for killer wife

HOUSTON [READ MORE: TX Court of Criminal Appeals opinion]

/*Susan Wright*/, now 33, was convicted in March 2004 of killing her 34-year-old husband Jeffrey. She buried his body in a hole in the yard of their Harris County home that he had dug for a fountain.

Wright, a former topless dancer, contended she killed her husband in self-defense after years of abuse.

The court agreed with her appeals attorney that her trial lawyers were deficient by presenting a meager case during the punishment phase of her trial.

"I'm obviously elated and gratified that after five years of work ... we were able to grab the brass ring, that the Court of Criminal Appeals unanimously recognized the punishment stage of her case was flawed," said her appeals attorney, Brian Wice.

At the trial, Wright had faced anywhere from probation to 99 years in prison. Prosecutors wanted her to serve at least 45 years behind bars and Wright's attorneys argued for probation for the mother of two.

Wice said it was "not etched in stone" that the case needs to be retried at the punishment phase.

"I'm hoping to sit down in the near future with the district attorney's office and hopefully craft a fair and just resolution of this case without the necessity of a new punishment hearing," he said. "This district attorney's office has shown a willingness to sit down and to discuss tough cases with an eye toward doing justice without the necessity of a new punishment hearing."

Roe Wilson, who handles appeals in the Harris County district attorney's office, said it was too soon to decide on the next step.

"Any time a case comes back, you have to look at it," she said. "You have to consider: Are witnesses available, can it be retried? This case, I'm not aware of any problems.

"And of course, sometimes there are negotiations between the defense attorney and the trial court but that's all speculation at this point."

Prosecutors said during the trial that Wright killed her husband Jan. 13, 2003, because she wanted benefits from his $200,000 life insurance policy and didn't want a divorce.

They said she seductively tied his ankles and wrists to their bed before stabbing him, buried his body in the back yard fountain hole and cleaned and painted the bedroom to cover up the crime.

The day after Wright killed her husband, she filed a domestic abuse report to get a restraining order intended to explain his absence, prosecutors said. She then concocted the history of abuse because she feared the body eventually would be discovered, they said.

Wright testified often tearfully during the trial that she killed her husband only after he had just raped her and threatened her with a knife. She said he was a cocaine and marijuana abuser who beat her repeatedly.

She explained ligature marks on his wrists by saying she tied his body to a metal dolly with neckties and cloth sashes to haul it to the back yard. The body was found on Jan. 18, 2003 after she called her attorney, who reported it to authorities.

The couple's young son and daughter, then ages 5 and 2, were asleep and didn't witness the killing.

The trial was marked by Kelly Siegler, then an assistant Harris County prosecutor, bringing a bed into the Houston courtroom, tying up her co-counsel, climbing atop him and re-enacting the slaying scene for jurors.

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