Wednesday, April 25, 2007

DA’s Office Contradicts Wright Family Claims in Mardis Case

Posted By on Wed, Apr 25, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Jennifer Donnals, communications director for Shelby County attorney general Bill Gibbons' office, responded to the claims of members of Mickey Wright's family that appeared in this week’s Flyer.

Wright’s widow, Frances, and her sister, Gail Miller, say that the state failed to inform them of their victims' rights, including the right to issue a victim impact statement for the judge to consider during the sentencing process.

Donnals says that a victim-witness coordinator with the district attorney's office called Wright July 14, 2004. Then, according to internal DA office documents, via Donnals, the victim-witness coordinator mailed Wright a pamphlet called "Information for Crime Victims and Witnesses," in keeping with victims' rights procedures. The internal documents also note multiple phone calls to Wright from the victim-witness coordinator, and 15 personal meetings between Wright and the victim-witness coordinator.

Donnals said that the case for a first-degree murder conviction fell through and altered the procedure for the victim impact statement. "Victim impact statements are given when there's a trial, after the conviction and before the sentencing. When a defendant pleads guilty, however, it is not automatic that there is a victim impact statement. In this case, the judge, I'm told, met with the family in his chambers and agreed to let them give a statement on the record in court, which they did," she says.

Donnals said the DA office followed state victims' rights statutes as closely as the timing of Mardis' plea-bargain allowed. The first-degree murder trial was set to begin Monday April 9th, when Mardis and the state struck a plea bargain announced April 5th, along with Mardis’ 15-year sentence.

Wright says that she was not aware of the plea negotiation, and was informed that a deal had been struck about two hours before the announcement of Mardis' sentence. "[The law] states that whenever possible, victims have the right to be informed and advised prior to the entry into any plea agreement, which we feel we did in this case. We wish it would have been more time as well, given the circumstances."

Prosecuting attorney Thomas Henderson obtained new information in the case that cast doubt on the state's ability to get a first-degree conviction. According to Donnals, the new information involved witness testimony that "would have made it impossible to prove first degree murder, [specifically], premeditation."

Wright and Donnals respective claims about the timing of Wright's notification of the plea bargain contradict one another. Wright says that she was called at 11:30 the morning of the 5th. Donnals says that "the family was present all day to meet with prosecutors in the case regarding Mr. Mardis' agreement to plead guilty."

— Preston Lauterbach


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