Why This Woman’s Murder Conviction Is Still Being Debated, 20 Years Later
The season finale of Investigation Discovery's Reasonable Doubt follows Patricia Wright and her 1998 murder conviction — for a crime of which she has always claimed she was innocent, per ABC Eyewitness News. The series, now in its second season, features homicide detective Chris Anderson and criminal defense attorney Fatima Silva taking a second look at murder cases where the convicted parties claim innocence. And, a re-examination of this case will reveal whether Patricia Wright is still in prison, or if her attempts to be released had any merit to them.
But you don't have to wait for the episode to find out the verdict. According to ABC, Wright was convicted 17 years after the murder of her ex-husband, even though there was no physical evidence tying her to his death. The Center on Media, Crime, and Justice at John Jay College (CMCJ) reported that she'd initially been ruled out as a suspect because the forensics found at the scene didn't match her profile. 17 years later, a cold case team re-opened the investigation and charged Wright with the crime.
According to CMCJ, during the trial, the prosecution argued that Wright's alleged motive was to get her ex-husband's life insurance payout of $30,000. She claimed her innocence throughout the investigation, but was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, per CBS Los Angeles.
She was then sentenced to life in prison without parole, according to her California inmate record. There she remained until interest in her case deepened in 2011. That's when, according to ABC, Wright had been attempting to secure a release from prison by applying to downgrade two unrelated felonies to misdemeanors. Blind and diagnosed with terminal cancer, doctors had given her six months to live, per ABC. California's compassionate release law could theoretically allow Wright clemency.
According to the Monterey Bay Justice Project, inmates who meet the medical requirements (terminally ill with less than six months to live) can apply, but must be deemed non-threatening to society. They also cannot be convicted to life sentences without parole. Wright had three felonies, including the murder conviction, which automatically kept her out of the clemency program. That's why she was looking into getting a reduced charge on her two previous felonies.
Those other convictions stem from petty theft that her seven-year-old son reportedly committed while with her in 1989, per ABC. CMCJ reported that Wright pleaded guilty to those felonies in 1990, stating:
"The trial was taking so much of my time. I had five children to take care of and it was costing me so much money to travel two hours from Riverside to Los Angeles and sit in court all day. I decided to just plead guilty to get it over with."
That became a costly decision. Per ABC, in 2011, Judge Becky Dugan denied her request to make the thefts misdemeanors, therefore effectively denying her attempt at compassionate release. Dugan focused her ruling on Wright's murder conviction. "How could she kill a human being?" Dugan said, according to ABC. "That human being will never, never get out."
Much of Wright's appeal hinged on her terminally ill status. But, in a twist, Wright appears to have lived nearly seven years longer than doctors expected. Her California inmate record, which claims to be "current as of: 08/22/2018," lists her as still incarcerated. She's apparently being held at the California Institution for Women and is now 67.
Perhaps the Reasonable Doubt episode will further explore what happened between her 2011 request denial and today. It airs Aug. 22 at 10 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery.