HOUSTON (CN) – The presence of reporters did not interfere with the sentencing trial of a woman who buried her husband’s body in their backyard after stabbing him more than 193 times, a Texas appeals court ruled.
A jury convicted Susan Wright of murdering her husband and sentenced her to 25 years in jail in 2004.
After Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals upheld the conviction, Wright filed a habeas writ claiming her lawyer provided ineffective assistance.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted Wright partial habeas relief, set aside the trial court’s judgment and remanded the case for a new punishment trial.
After the second punishment trial, a jury sentenced Wright to 20 years in prison.
Wright again took her case to the 14th Court of Appeals seeking a new trial on both her guilt and punishment.
During Wright’s first punishment trial, a medical examiner testified that he discovered the body of Wright’s husband, Jeffrey, on Jan. 19, 2003.
The body was tied up at the ankles and wrists, and buried in the backyard of the home where the couple lived with their two children.
An autopsy found that the body had been stabbed more than 193 times, mostly in the front of his body. Investigators also found a knife tip had broken off in Wright’s skull.
Susan Wright’s defense attorneys presented evidence of the victim’s history of drug use and abusing women. Several witnesses testified they saw Susan with a black eye, and bruise on her forehead.
Susan Wright’s sister testified she frequently saw bruises on Susan’s body throughout the marriage.
Toxicology reports on Jeff Wright’s body found traces of alcohol, cocaine and the date-rape drug GHB.
A three-judge panel on Tuesday overruled each issue Wright that raised on appeal.
In finding the news media presence did not violate Wright’s fair-trial rights, the judges pointed to a Supreme Court ruling that found allowing TV or photographic coverage of a criminal trial over the defendant’s objections is not necessarily a due-process denial.
Wright also failed to question excluded evidence of her relationship with her late husband, despite the introduction of allegedly “irrelevant and prejudicial” state evidence.
The court noted that Wright failed to preserve this complaint for appellate review by not raising the issue during trial.
Wright had also taken issue with testimony about a phone conversation her first attorney had in 2004 with the doctor who interviewed her after the murder.
Under cross-examination at Wright’s 2010 punishment hearing, the doctor said that Wright’s planned testimony conflicted with what she had told him during his psychiatric evaluation.
One week after the murder, Wright told the doctor she stabbed her husband after they had sex, and he fell asleep.
But at trial in 2004, Wright testified that she killed her husband in self-defense after he beat her, raped her and threatened her with a knife.
Wright claimed on appeal that attorney-client privilege shielded the testimony.
In dismissing this claim, the appeals court found that the doctor’s testimony did not influence the jury, or had only a slight effect.
Wright had also claimed the prosecution improperly commented on her right not to testify, but the appeals court said Wright had forfeited this claim for appellate review. Wright’s lawyer called for a mistrial based on the prosecution’s comments, rather than requesting an instruction for the jury to disregard the statements, according to the court.