MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A jury on Monday convicted a Tennessee man in the murder of former NBA player Lorenzen Wrightwhose bullet-riddled body was found in a field nearly 12 years ago in his hometown of Memphis.
The 12-person jury deliberated for about two hours before convicting Billy Ray Turner of first-degree murder, attempted murder and conspiracy in the death of Wright, a 6ft, 11in center who played 13 seasons in the NBA before. he retired after the 2008–09 season. Judge Lee Coffee sentenced Turner, 51, to life in prison for the murder conviction. He will be sentenced on the other counts at a later date.
Coffee called Wright a “sacred son” of Memphis and told his mother, Deborah Marion, the lawsuit might not end her but to “celebrate the goodness” of her son.
Outside the courtroom, Marion told reporters she was delighted with the verdict. She said she would visit her son’s grave on Monday evening.
“It will never be closed, because I will never see my son again,” Marion said. “It’s just a satisfaction for me and my family.”
The murder is one of the highest profile murder cases in Memphis history. Wright’s decomposing body was found riddled with gunshot wounds in a marshy field east of Memphis on July 28, 2010. The 34-year-old father of six had been missing for days before his body was be discovered.
Turner had previously pleaded guilty to possessing a weapon as a convicted felon after he was found with two guns when he was arrested in the 2017 Wright murder. Turner is serving a 16-year prison sentence for a separate firearms charge.
Prosecutors allege Wright’s ex-wife, Sherra Wright, orchestrated a plan to kill her ex-husband and recruited Turner and his cousin, Jimmie Martin, to help her.
Turner and Sherra Wright were indicted in December 2017, more than seven years after the murder. Sherra Wright walked into a surprise guilty plea for facilitating murder in July 2019 and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Turner is a landscaper who knew Sherra Wright from church and, according to prosecutors, had a secret romantic relationship with her.
At the time of Wright’s murder, Martin was facing charges of killing his girlfriend and he said his cousin helped pay for some of his legal fees. Martin was convicted, and is currently serving a prison sentence, in this case. He received immunity from prosecution in the Wright case.
Martin testified that Sherra Wright recruited him and Turner to kill Lorenzen Wright. Parts of his testimony were disputed by defense attorney John Keith Perry, who said the information Martin provided to investigators was a farce and full of lies.
Martin testified that he and Turner met with Sherra Wright to plan the murder and went to Lorenzen Wright’s Atlanta condo to shoot him, on the understanding that he would be paid.
Armed with handguns, Turner and Martin drove to Wright’s condo in Atlanta, entered through a window and found someone sleeping on the living room couch – but it wasn’t Lorenzen Wright, said Martin. Turner and Martin returned home without killing anyone.
Martin told prosecutor Paul Hagerman he was in Batesville, Mississippi, at the time of the shooting just after midnight on July 19, 2010. Martin said he went to the Memphis grounds with Sherra Wright a few days after the shooting and that she basically confessed.
Lorenzen Wright was visiting Memphis from Atlanta. Sherra Wright said she lured her ex-husband to the field by telling him she was going to meet someone there to get money, Martin said. According to Martin, she said she and Turner ambushed and chased down Lorenzen Wright, who jumped a fence and tried to run away before shooting her in the field.
The jury heard a chilling 911 call made by Lorenzen Wright that captured the pop-pop-pop sound of multiple gunshots.
Martin also said that Turner and Wright got rid of evidence from the shooting scene and he went with Turner to dispose of the gun by dumping it in a northern Mississippi lake. Martin said he told detectives in 2012 where the gun was. He was later found by FBI divers.
In his closing arguments, defense attorney John Keith Perry said Martin’s “crazy and contrived” story was not credible. Perry said Martin — not Turner — was in Memphis the night Lorenzen Wright was shot.
Prosecutor Paul Hagerman defended Martin’s testimony, saying Martin’s immunity agreement required him to tell the truth and that statements made to investigators and prosecutors were consistent.
Prosecutor Austin Scofield said Sherra Wright told Turner during a meeting at her home that Lorenzen Wright hit her.
Citing testimonies, Scofield said Turner responded, “What do you want me to do, Sherra?”
Neither Turner nor Sherra Wright testified during the trial.
The motive for the murder was unclear, although Hagerman said the killers were motivated by jealousy and greed.
Sherra Wright received $1million from her ex-husband’s life insurance policy and settled a legal dispute in 2014 over how she spent the insurance money meant for their six children.
Marion, the slain player’s mother, said she was convinced the insurance policy was Sherra Wright’s motivation.
“That was what it was about. The money,” Marion said.