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State v. Wright

August 17, 2006

STATE OF MINNESOTA, RESPONDENT,
v.
ERIC MAURICE WRIGHT, APPELLANT.



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. The admission of other-crimes evidence under Minn. R. Evid. 404(b) to show the defendant's identity as the perpetrator of the charged offense was not an abuse of discretion.

2. Prosecutor's remarks in opening and closing statements did not amount to improper comment on credibility or disparage defendant's defense.

3. Apprendi v. New Jersey does not apply to a mandatory life sentence with a release disqualifier based on a prior conviction.

4. Defendant was not denied effective assistance of counsel.

Affirmed.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anderson, Russell A., Chief Justice.

Heard, considered, and decided by the court en banc.

OPINION

Following a jury trial in Stearns County District Court, appellant Eric Maurice Wright was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release in connection with the stabbing death of 82-year-old Raymond Wander. On appeal from the judgment, Wright asserts he was denied a fair trial by the erroneous admission of Spreigl evidence and prosecutorial misconduct; and he also asserts constitutional error in sentencing. By pro se supplemental brief, Wright makes additional claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. We affirm.

Wander lived alone in the family home in Elrosa, Minnesota. He was meticulous in maintaining the home on his own, believing that everything had its place. Wander had a checking account for bills but would otherwise pay for items with cash that he kept in a two-drawer filing cabinet in his main-floor bedroom. As part of his daily routine, Wander would retrieve his newspaper from his mailbox and his mail from the post office. He had children living in Elrosa and Richfield who were in contact with him on an "almost" daily basis. His daughter, Marjorie, would call him nearly every night around 9:00 p.m. so as not to interrupt his favorite TV show. She last spoke with her father on March 23, 2004.

Appellant Wright lived in Richfield with Wander's daughter, Mary Jane. Wright was also the primary driver of Mary Jane's 1995 Toyota Camry. He was on good terms with Mary Jane's father, playing cards with him and helping with yard work in the fall, and he had spent the night in the Wander family home roughly half a dozen times. Although Wright had struggled with substance abuse during his relationship with Mary Jane, he was working at Cub Foods and going to college.

On March 23, 2004, Wright was in the midst of what would eventually be a 2- or 3-day drug binge. In the afternoon of the 23rd, Wright and another man in a red and white Indiana jacket purchased a TV at Target and traded it for five 20-dollar rocks of cocaine. At about 6:20 p.m., Wright and the man in the Indiana jacket arrived at Wright's and Mary Jane's home. Wright lied that he was in trouble and needed money. Although Mary Jane thought Wright had probably been drinking and doing drugs, she drove the men in the 1995 Toyota Camry to an ATM where she withdrew $200 and gave the money to Wright. When they returned home, Wright said he had to drive to Brooklyn Center. Following an argument, Mary Jane threw the car keys at Wright who then left with the man in the Indiana jacket. Wright bought crack cocaine two more times that night, the second occurring sometime between 11:30 p.m. and midnight. He was alone both times.

On March 24, 2004, Wright returned home between 5:15 a.m. and 5:30 a.m., as Mary Jane was getting ready to get up for work. He said he was tired and needed a place to lie down. He ironed her pants and made her coffee. He was "antsy" and his hands were shaking. Wright called Mary Jane at work around 8:00 a.m., told her that he loved her and that he needed to get help. Wright borrowed money from neighbors and co-workers and purchased crack cocaine. He seemed nervous and agitated; and he looked "kind of ragged."

On March 25, 2004, at around 5:15 a.m. or 5:30 a.m., the Durand, Wisconsin police department called Mary Jane. Wright had been hospitalized in Durand following suicide attempts and arrangements needed to be made for the return of the Toyota Camry to Richfield. After Wright was transferred to a hospital in Eau Claire, Wisconsin authorities called again, telling Mary Jane that Wright was concerned about her father's safety and asking that she confirm that he was all right. When Mary Jane was unable to reach her father by phone, she contacted family members to check on him. At 1:08 p.m., Lorraine Wander, Wander's daughter-in-law, called 911 and reported finding Wander dead in the basement of his home. Responding officers found Wander lying face down in a pool of blood. His hands had been tied behind his ...


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