October 30, 2009

A woman who tied up her husband, stabbed him 193 times, and buried his body in a hole in the yard that he had dug for a fountain received a 25-year prison sentence.

And she got the sentence overturned.

64 comments:

Hazy Dave said...

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.

As they say down in Texas, YEE-HAW!

Henry said...

Isn't it odd how the detail about the fountain just kills your sympathy for the defendant? Sure, she might have killed him in self defense like she says, but lady, you didn't have to steal his hole. You kill someone, you dig your own damn hole.

Ann Althouse said...

The 193 stabs to an incapacitated human being was enough for me.

Ann Althouse said...

Not just a whole he dug but a hole for a *fountain.* You've heard of the Fountain of Youth. Contemplate the Fountain of Death.

Beldar said...

This was a fascinating case at the trial court level. As the linked article suggests (but doesn't much detail), the defense team had an equally vivid and entirely exculpatory characterization of the evidence; but as true as it may be that some men just need killing, that's a tough defense to win with before a jury.

Despite my normal chauvinism as a 30-year Houston resident and life-long Texan, however, I don't think there is anything about the case that makes it particularly unique to Texas or Houston. Other cities have creative lawyers who weave vivid stories from the evidence they have to work with. And although Houston's are particularly famous (or notorious), other cities have strip joints, strippers and their prey/clients, and the colorful (if predictable) domestic maladies that such folks find themselves in the midst of.

Bushman of the Kohlrabi said...

This is a woman who can really get things done.

TMink said...

So how many years does 193 stab wounds get you? How many years per stab?

I am surprised that Texas would let a cold blooded murderer like this live. I expect better from Texas.

Trey

Lem said...

..tying up her co-counsel, climbing atop him and re-enacting the slaying scene for jurors.

Everything is a potential 'reality show' now.

wv matin - i'm not kidding.

Balfegor said...

The body was found on Jan. 18, 2003 after she called her attorney, who reported it to authorities.

Legal "ethics" question -- is her attorney allowed to do that? I thought the exception to attorney-client confidences was only for violent crimes that were going to be committed, not crimes that have already been completed? I mean, obviously that position is monstrous and repugnant, etc. etc., but that's why people despise lawyers. Question still stands. Did he violate legal ethics?

Lem said...

This is a woman who can really get things done.

Obama could learn a lot from a Susan.

Beldar said...

Here, by the way, is a Houston Chronicle story about the appellate decision.

And here is the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' per curiam decision. It's a peculiar one, marked "Do Not Publish," and it contains almost no discussion of the facts of the underlying criminal charge or the trial. This statement is pretty rough: "We decline to adopt the trial judge’s written findings of fact and conclusions of law because
either they are not supported by the record or they are contrary to the law." But you just have to take the appellate court's word for that, because there's no supporting discussion or explanation.

I haven't read the record, nor the briefs. All I know about the case is from press coverage during and after the trial. I would begin by being extremely cynical, however, toward claims of ineffective assistance based on failure to adduce a larger volume of sympathetic evidence during the punishment phase. How much of that is needed, and when it crosses over the line into raising more risks than benefits (a serious problem with any defendant with a flawed past), is the sort of tactical judgment that ought not be second-guessed under Strickland v. Washington.

kentuckyliz said...

Interesting confidentiality question.

As a counselor, I would be bound by confidentiality unless subpoenaed.

Bissage said...

I’ve always figured that being handy around the house is what keeps me safe but then again Mrs. Bissage was never a topless dancer.

Old RPM Daddy said...

From the article: "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."

Did they sell tickets? Popcorn? Sodas?

Lem said...

She was a terrific dancer.. that's my story and I'm sticking to it ;)

Beldar said...

And here is the intermediate opinion by the Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston, which contains a much more fulsome description of the facts and evidence.

Dogwood said...

Women like her give bondage a bad name.

Paddy O. said...

I'm curious how many stabs it takes to be "enough".

kentuckyliz said...

She should get the same punishment he would have got if he had killed her.

If that state has a castle law, can a woman arm herself for protection, and shoot her husband dead if he attacks her? Would that fall under castle law?

She's a cold-blooded killer who first reported abuse after she killed him. She had a whole range of options she refused to exercise.

She married and had two children with an abusive drug abuser...and all of a sudden these things are a problem.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

A man attacks you, you break up. You don't marry him. You don't have one and then two children with him.

A man rapes you at knifepoint, you call the police.

Women need to be held accountable for their behavior. I'm sure the Dr. Helen blog is ablaze with comment.

This man didn't "need killing," he needed arresting and court-ordered counseling for abusers. He needed leaving. Earl doesn't have to die, but he should end up alone.

Kev said...

(the other kev)

So the conviction wasn't overturned, just the sentence?

So go for the death penalty this time. Double jeopardy can't be an issue.

Beldar said...

Trey writes, "I am surprised that Texas would let a cold blooded murderer like this live. I expect better from Texas."

My recollection, supported by the court of appeals' opinion, is that Ms. Wright was never charged with capital murder, but rather that the simple first degree murder charge reflected a considered judgment by the Harris County District Attorney's office that the facts wouldn't support a death sentence. Dead is dead, and stabbing a corpse isn't an aggravating factor that can justify the death penalty.

Anecdotal evidence is never conclusive, but remember this anecdote the next time you read or hear some pundit railing about how Texas, and Houston/Harris County in particular, are running a "death factory." What is true is that the Harris County DAs have such extensive experience now in capital cases that they're careful to only charge them when truly appropriate, and then they generally do a damn fine job of prosecuting them in a fashion that will stand up through the inevitable appeals and habeas claims.

reader_iam said...

The 193 stabs to an incapacitated human being was enough for me.


Yes! The presence of their 5-year-old and 2-year-old in the house is icing on the cake, though.

rdkraus said...

Whoa Beldar. From that opionion:

The medical examiner concluded Jeff Wright died of multiple sharp-force injuries. He had been stabbed at least 193 times. Among these injuries, 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 tip of a knife was broken off in the top of his skull. Jeff Wright=s body was found nude, but he had what were described as Aligatures@ on his arms and one leg; specifically, tied around each wrist was a necktie, and tied around the right ankle was what appeared to be a part of a bathrobe sash. Candle wax was found on Jeff Wright=s thigh and scrotum.

That is a thorough job. No?

But sloppy. Very sloppy.

Beldar said...

Yes, it was an enthusiastic homicide!

The defense argued, of course, that the excess reflected not the depravity of the defendant, but rather the depravities of the victim to which she'd previously been subjected. There was a factual basis for that interpretation, but the jury didn't buy it.

Enthusiastic homicide can be the same as intentional and premeditated homicide. To get a conviction for capital murder under Tex. Penal Code section 19.03(a), the prosecution has to prove that certain further aggravating factors exist. Examples include murder-for-hire; murder during escape or while incarcerated; murder of a peace officer or fire fighter or judge; murder during the course of certain other serious felonies; simultaneous multiple murders; and murders of a child of six or under.

Lem said...

193 is a prime number..

I'm not a lawyer but I bet this exculpatory evidence was not unearthed during the sentencing phase.

She was a genius your honor ;)

Beldar said...

Another detail I'd forgotten from the trial coverage, but that is wonderfully macabre for Halloween:

Then, in the week that followed, appellant buried Jeff's body in the backyard, worked to cover up the evidence of her crime, and began a campaign of "lies and fabrications," telling Jeff's family and friends that Jeff had hit their son, abused her, and left home. As part of her plan, appellant also reported physical abuse to her doctor and filed criminal charges against Jeff, resulting in a warrant being issued for his arrest. It was only after the family dog dug up Jeff's body, the State concluded, that appellant's plan fell apart.

Loyal, loyal dog!

bearbee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paddy O. said...

"because there's no supporting discussion or explanation."

Publishing "she's an attractive blond" wasn't apparently understood as a necessary gesture.

Richard Dolan said...

Beldar helpfully linked to the decision, and it's quite remarkable in how little it says. In NY the intermediate appellate courts have jurisdiction to reduce a sentence in the interest of justice, and they sometimes do. When it happens you will often seem an opinion like this, just given the conclusion and adding only an explanation that the sentence was excessive as originally imposed.

The Supremes heard argument on another odd-ball case turning on an ineffectiveness claim, Smith v. Spivak, on Oct 7. The Sixth Circuit had granted habeas because defense counsel hadn't introduced evidence to make the defendant seem sympathetic, after the jury had convicted him of triple murder. Spivak took the stand during the guilt phase and told the jury he would kill again, then gave the jury a Nazi salute. There was some skepticism at the Supremes about how any defense attorney could make that fellow seem sympathetic. Instead, defense counsel made a pitch to the jurors' sense of their own integrity, asking them to see that the defendant was an obvious nut and decent people don't sentence nuts to death. (The jury didn't buy it.)

In this case, Ann is certainly right to say that it's pretty hard to get by the 193 stab wounds to a guy who's tied up and just looking for a tingle up his leg. That plus the uninformative opinion suggests to me that there was something else about the case that led the court to vacate the sentence. That they don't say suggests that whatever it was, it either wasn't preserved or for some other reason they couldn't give it as the reason for reversing. But unless this appellate court is a real screwball institution, something else must have been going on.

Oxbay said...

If I ever need a lawyer I want to hire Kelly Siegler. There's a attorney who goes all out for her clients.

By the bye, she'd be a much better date than the defendant. At least you'd be able to walk away at the end of the night.

Alive.

kentuckyliz said...

Dead man's best friend

campy said...

Why don't they just make it legal for women to kill their husbands and be done with all this?

MadisonMan said...

Was Peter stabbed to death before he was buried under Abby's new Patio on Knots Landing? I don't remember, but it sounds like this lady was going for a similar scene.

Beldar said...

I worked on Washington v. Strickland while I was clerking on the Fifth Circuit. (Technically it was a new "Unit B"/Eleventh Circuit post-split case, and my judge, sitting in effect as a visiting judge there, wrote the panel opinion but was unable to participate in the en banc proceedings.

There, David Washington's habeas counsel argued that his trial counsel had been ineffective when -- after Washington had confessed and pleaded guilty to three capital murder charges against the advice of counsel -- the trial defense team called only a limited number of witnesses to show that the murders weren't symptomatic of a life of crime, but instead represented aberrant behavior by a good citizen. Defense counsel had appeared before the sentencing trial judge (Washington also waived a jury on punishment) many times, and believed that the judge might spare Washington's life in recognition of his sincere confession and lack of prior criminal history. Counsel thus made a deliberate tactical decision that putting on more witnesses and evidence would be overplaying their hand and probably detrimental. That's exactly the kind of incredibly subjective tactical judgment call that lawyers are obliged to make every day, and the fact that their client didn't prosper does not turn that exercise of judgment into constitutionally ineffective assistance.

former law student said...

This woman is a sociopath, from the unabashed lying and the multiple, multiple stab wounds.* I would expect this wasn't her first killing, but this is unlikely to have been her first crime.

But she's cute enough to have been forgiven a lot of shit in her lifetime.

*It takes a while to die of stab wounds. The inexperienced killer is likely to keep stabbing till the victim's dead. But not 193 times, maybe one-tenth of that.

former law student said...

Why don't they just make it legal for women to kill their husbands and be done with all this?

Most women would agree that just being married is punishment enough. Why not just forbid them to marry again?

Jim Howard said...

It's pretty unusual for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to ever fail to sustain a conviction.

There must have been something in the punishment phase of the original trail that was particularly egregious.

traditionalguy said...

Courts cannot help protecting the Victim. It is a wonder to see a good Texas trial lawyer portray the dead man as the bad guy and the murdering attack person as the victim. Maybe the east Texas to Mississippi pineywoods culture sees more abused women then we could ever understand in more civilized places.

Lem said...

I recent MM suggestion that the killing lacked originality.

I belive everybody has already agreed that everything under the sun has been done before.

No need to pile on MM ;)

The Drill SGT said...

Legal "ethics" question -- is her attorney allowed to do that? I thought the exception to attorney-client confidences was only for violent crimes that were going to be committed, not crimes that have already been completed?

it could be interpretted that she went to the lawyer, and the lawyer went to the cops with her permission.

TMink said...

liz wrote: "This man didn't "need killing," he needed arresting and court-ordered counseling for abusers."

Well, only if the murderer is honest.

It could happen!

Trey

wv = typen which is what I am doin

The Drill SGT said...

On the topic of 193 times.

You can stab a person once or twice and kill them rapidly.

through the eye, tyhe neck or obviously the heart for example.

The heart or eye isn't going to get you much blood, but 193 basicly superficial wounds? They place must have looked and smelled like a slaughter house

Lem said...

BTW - its obvious by this tread alone this poor woman probably had terrible representation ;)

wv - spaters - wv calling Dr Henry Lee.

CarmelaMotto said...

You know if this wasn't a high profile case, the prosecution would have skipped the theatrics. As if the jury couldn't picture someone being tied up and stabbed.

Treacle said...

Ann is slipping. The story, as Hazy Dave noted, is the last paragraph. I wonder if Kelly Siegler is hot.

Balfegor said...

it could be interpretted that she went to the lawyer, and the lawyer went to the cops with her permission.

I . . . guess. Kind of incompatible with her clever plan to explain his absence by filing domestic abuse reports and seeking a restraining order against the dead man. I mean, she killed him January 13, 2003, and the body is found January 18. Maybe she had a change of heart about that whole effort to conceal the murder? Well, she's obviously disturbed, so perhaps she did.

careen said...

A 33-yr-old blonde ex-topless dancer.

How about Wright and OJ get married, and we call it even?

avwh said...

Re Kelly Siegler:

http://www.law.com/special/professionals/nlj/women_on_top/40_litigators.html#Siegler

From the law.com directory, titled "Women AT the Top" (not ON top, as she apparently was in the re-enactment for this trial):

"Kelly Siegler is known as a giant-killer in Texas, having won high-profile prosecutions against some of the state's best known, and most highly regarded, defense attorneys... Her felony conviction rate at trial is 95 percent... She handles only big cases -- she's tried 13 capital murder cases and won death penalty verdicts in 12."

Synova said...

I worked with an abused woman once. I tried to convince her to go to a shelter, I think (hope) she finally did.

Her story? She was terrified of him and was utterly certain that he would hurt her family. Not her kids... I don't think they had any, but her parents, her siblings, all the people she loved. So she wouldn't go to *them* for help. In her mind she was keeping the people she loved safe by moving with her abuser to the other side of the country. He was too far away to hurt them any more. She was being as strong and pro-active as she could possibly have been in order to protect her family. Then one day he shot himself in the leg and ended up in the hospital. Shortly after I never saw her anymore and never heard what she had decided or what she had done.

I agree that very often an abused person can't leave. Sometimes they think they can't. Sometimes they really can't. If you had to chose between getting beat up and your mother getting beat up, what would you do?

Not having heard of this particular case, though, I have to say that stabbing 193 times seems to me something that someone would not do in "cold blood"... not even if she wanted to make it seem like she snapped. And calling in an abuse report after he's dead doesn't seem like pre-meditated planning ahead to me at all. (As the lady explained in those acorn tapes in how she got away with murder... you lay the abuse foundation *first*.) They started having the police file abuse charges *because* women understood it was downright dangerous for them to do so.

I'm not saying, at all, that someone should be able to get away with killing another person in self-defense, but that it ought to make a difference and that people have recognized that "she could leave" is really not always true.

TMink said...

Synova, I believe that in her line of work, she was surrounded every work day by people who would have been happy to take her in and protect her had she been frightened.

There is one born every minute you know.

Trey

Synova said...

TMink... the lady I worked with had *family* that would take her in and protect her.

You really think that an abuser (in general, not specific to this case because the facts are what they are and I don't know them) doesn't tell the abused that if he can't find *her* he's going to go after her helpful and willing friends?

Really?

kwood said...

So is it legal now to kill people we don't like? Just tell a story about how mean they were? I don't get it.

Flexo said...

It's always the lawyers fault. Always.

Even when the defendant repeatedly sends threatening letters and shouts to the world that he is going to kill the victim, then kills the victim on national TV and in front of a 100,000 eyewitnesses, and then gives a blood-drenched TV interview proudly admitting he did it, and then gives a written confession, which he cc's to the Supreme Court, and then writes a book "Yes, I did it," and then repeatedly shouts in court in front of the jury "I did it." Still, even then, it is the lawyers fault.

Now that she has had her 25-year sentence thrown out because of her incompetent lawyers, what is she going to say when her new competent lawyers end up getting her a 50-year sentence?

David said...

careen said...
"A 33-yr-old blonde ex-topless dancer.

How about Wright and OJ get married, and we call it even?"

Good suggestion. She is OJ's type (physically, that is.)

By the way, the woman was not just killing him. She was torturing him first.

Imaging the outcry if a man did this to a woman and a court overturned the sentence.

Penny said...

There was a TV show about this case. Something like Prime Time but I forget which one exactly. In any case, while most of these shows are boring, this one was riveting. Kelly Siegler was phenomenal, but the young woman was, against all odds, believable.

Not saying that she shouldn't have been convicted, but her testimony of what was really someone out of her mind, and then slowly finding it as the days wore on, was totally compelling. If she was lying, she missed her calling as an award winning actress.

Penny said...

One more thing. I know there are some who believe that pretty young blondes get lighter sentences because they are just that. They use statistics, generally dealing with pretty blonde teachers who preyed on a young male student, but not generally statistics beyond that crime. I guess they work best for the argument.

To that group, I will only say this...That knife you speak of. It has a double edge, hence the well-known remark, "Don't hate me because I am beautiful".

Kha said...

I have to admit,the photographs with the kids really get me.

http://www.amarillo.com/images/030504/12849_512.jpg

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_zC7oTLJEqEE/SVen2xYN_cI/AAAAAAAAF8I/4yvLmtiMhJU/s1600-h/susan+wright+in+prison.jpg

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_zC7oTLJEqEE/SVeoTj2t2NI/AAAAAAAAF8Y/JNv-iy80Cms/s1600-h/susan+wright+at+trial.jpg

http://www.thebiographychannel.co.uk/images/biographies/main/1599_bio_homepage_main.jpg

http://lh3.ggpht.com/fisherwy/R3tAwme9vqI/AAAAAAAAMiI/NUlTw6ybnMk/Susan+Wright+stabs+husband+Jeff+Wright+193+times+1%5B12%5D

http://lh6.ggpht.com/fisherwy/R3tAzWe9vrI/AAAAAAAAMiQ/KcvV2MIvybY/Susan+Wright+stabs+husband+Jeff+Wright+193+times%5B2%5D

Gabriel Hanna said...

I think it is obscene that you can put a murder victim on trial for his own murder.

He can't call witnesses, and he can't get a lawyer.

If a man murders his wife, would "she had it coming" be a defense?

Even if he could prove that she had, I don't, poisoned her Cheerios?

Even if she had bdeen abused, this isn't a case of "he was beating her and she ran to the kitchen and got a knife and stabbed him".

She tricked him and tied him up and then murdered him. That is not acceptable even if he had been beating her.

She is not the first woman to murder her husband and then claim abuse.

Nancy Kissel, for example, poisoned her husband, and some other guy by mistake, hid her husband's body in a rolled-up carpet, and then claimed to be a victim of abuse.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article561624.ece

Yes, women are abused and should not be. It is not a "one free murder" card.

Penny said...

Gabriel, I never suggested that it was.

Do the crime, pay the crime.

Basically, as a nation, someone somewhere along the line recognized just how slippery that slope was if we entertained the "but I lost my mind" defense.

And that's a good thing. But only because most jurors could be convinced fairly easily that that is precisely why murderers should go free. That is not to say however, that some few people really DID lose their minds, and for reasons that you or I would have lost ours much sooner.

All I am saying is that I believe this woman was a victim of her husband and now is a "victim" of a law that is in the best interests of all of us.

I can live with that. More importantly perhaps, I can live with it without making her out to either be "less a victim" or "unfairly treated".

Sometimes a few of us have to fall between the cracks for a generally better societal outcome.

former law student said...

there are some who believe that pretty young blondes get lighter sentences because they are just that

That's not exactly my belief. I believe that some pretty young blondes have learned that they never had to develop the character traits that society expects of average-looking people.

randian said...

It is a wonder to see a good Texas trial lawyer portray the dead man as the bad guy and the murdering attack person as the victim.

Generally, that's only effective when the murderer is female and the victim is not a woman or child. Consider it part of the female sentencing discount.

jeff said...

Well, I guess you stab someone 145-150 times it could be a crime of passion. But 193? That's just mean.

Socialfuel said...

Isn't it odd how the detail about the fountain just kills your sympathy for the defendant? Sure, she might have killed him in self defense like she says, but lady, you didn't have to steal his hole. You kill someone, you dig your own damn hole.
Thanks!
Ramji & Associates Houston Personal Injury Attorney

Armani said...

The story, as Hazy Dave noted, is the last paragraph. I wonder if Kelly Siegler is hot. houston personal injury attorney