Ex-wife pleads guilty in slaying of NBA star Lorenzen Wright

/ CBS/AP

Lorenzen Wright: No Defense

The ex-wife of slain former NBA player Lorenzen Wright pleaded guilty Thursday to facilitation of first-degree murder in his shooting death nine years ago — a surprise development in one of Memphis, Tennessee's biggest murder cases. "48 Hours" investigated the slaying in the episode, "Lorenzen Wright: No Defense."

Sherra Wright also pleaded guilty to facilitation of a criminal attempt to commit first-degree murder in a hearing in Shelby County Criminal Court. Judge Lee Coffee sentenced her to 30 years in prison. Coffee said she would be eligible for parole once she served 30% of her sentence, which would be around nine years. If she had been convicted at trial, she could have been sentenced to more than 100 years, reports CBS affiliate WREG. A conspiracy charge was reportedly dropped.

Lorenzen Wright, of the Memphis Grizzlies, at a game in 2004. RONALD MARTINEZ/GETTY IMAGE

Sherra Wright had been scheduled to face a jury in a September trial on first-degree murder charges in the death of her ex-husband. His body was found riddled with gunshot wounds in a swampy field in suburban Memphis in July 2010. He had been missing for 10 days before his body was found.

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During the hearing, Sherra Wright answered questions from the judge in a soft voice. She said she has been taking medication for anxiety and depression.

Lorenzen Wright's family members agreed to the plea deal, prosecutor Paul Hagerman said.

"This is obviously a violent offense, an offense that has torn apart a family, an offense that's been highlighted throughout Memphis and the media and everything else," Hagerman said after the hearing.

Sherra Wright and co-defendant Billy Turner were charged in December 2017 with first-degree murder. Turner's trial remains scheduled for Sept. 16. He has already pleaded guilty to a gun charge related to Lorenzen Wright's shooting.

Sherra Wright pleads guilty. WREG continues our LIVE Team 3 coverage with the latest developments both on-air and online. Stream it all here: https://t.co/hxj44TXBcb pic.twitter.com/tJpjFdBI3G

— WREG News Channel 3 (@3onyourside) July 25, 2019

Hagerman would not say whether Sherra Wright would testify during Turner's trial.

Turner, a landscaper in the Memphis suburb of Collierville, and Sherra Wright attended the same church. Witnesses said Sherra Wright masterminded a plan to have two men kill Lorenzen Wright at his home in Atlanta, but that attempt failed, according to an affidavit.

She and Turner then conspired to kill him in Memphis, and they dumped one of the guns used in the shooting in a Mississippi lake, authorities have said. A gun that was allegedly used in the killing was found in the lake weeks before charges were filed in the case.

Wright's family members were in court Thursday wearing shirts with pictures of Lorenzen Wright, reports WREG. After Sherra Wright entered her plea, the judge allowed Lorenzen Wright's mother, Deborah Marion, to address the court. Marion spoke directly to Sherra Wright, telling her she wants to see her grandchildren.

"That's all I want, is my grandkids," Marion said. "I just hate what happened to my child, but he left some nice-looking grandkids."

"Goddamn:" Lorenzen Wright’s desperate call for help

Outside the courtroom, Marion said family members would be attending parole hearings. Marion said she would like to see Sherra Wright serve the full 30-year prison sentence.

"My son is serving life," Marion said.

Defense attorney Juni Ganguli told reporters outside of the courtroom that Sherra Wright's defense at trial would have been that her ex-husband beat her for years and she was tired of it. He said the defense would have been "scorched earth."

"The beatings were consistent, and it led to her face being disfigured," Ganguli said. "She feared that Mr. Wright would never leave her alone, and she recruited Billy Turner to kill Mr. Wright."

Sherra Wright received $1 million from her ex-husband's life insurance policy. She agreed to a settlement in 2014 in a court dispute over how she spent the insurance money meant to benefit their six children. Defense attorney Laurie Hall said she did not think the life insurance money was a motivation for Wright's killing.

Wright's death shook his hometown of Memphis. He played for the Memphis Tigers in college and the Memphis Grizzlies during his 13 seasons as a forward and center in the NBA.

Hagerman, the prosecutor, said the case frustrated law enforcement for years and the guilty plea was an important step toward healing by Lorenzen Wright's family and the city.

"Celebration is not the right word," Hagerman said. "This brings them a little bit closer to some closure."

The "48 Hours" investigation of the case, "Lorenzen Wright: No Defense," will air Saturday at 10/9c on CBS.

First published on July 25, 2019 / 4:09 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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