Freddie Lee Wright (Alabama) Case Summary   Case Chart

Allegation

On March 3, 2000, the State of Alabama, with the acquiescence of the federal government, executed Freddie Lee Wright in the electric chair. The state and federal governments failed to ensure Wright’s right to a fair and impartial trial, free of racial discrimination. The unfair and racially discriminatory trial resulted in Wright’s execution.

Crime

Warren and Lois Green, a white couple, were shot and killed during an armed robbery at their Western Auto Store in Mount Vernon, Alabama. A woman entering the store later identified Theodore Otis Roberts as one of the robbers and he was arrested. The state identified a handgun belonging to Roberts as the murder weapon. Months later, charges against Roberts were dropped and four other black men, including Freddie Lee Wright, were indicted in the case. Wright’s three co-defendants named him as the shooter in the robbery, and he was tried and convicted of armed robbery and murder.

Salient Issues

Trial

It took two trials to convict Freddie Lee Wright. The first trial, with a mixed-race jury, voted eleven to one in favor of acquittal, resulting in a mistrial. An all-white jury convicted him of armed robbery and capital murder in the second trial.

The prosecution in Wright’s first trial relied on the testimony of two of his co-defendants. One later recanted his testimony, saying the prosecutor threatened him with the electric chair if he did not name Wright as the shooter. The other later provided a written affidavit saying that he, too, was pressured by the prosecution to name Wright. This second co-defendant named another man as the killer. In exchange for their testimony, both men were allowed to plead guilty to lesser charges. One received a ten-year sentence and the other was permitted to serve his Alabama sentence concurrently with a sentence he had for another crime in Mississippi. The third man received a 25-year sentence but was later paroled. In spite of these witnesses’ testimony at trial, a mixed-race jury voted eleven-to-one to acquit Wright of all charges, resulting in a mistrial. The same witnesses the state used to convict Freddie Wright were later deemed to be non-credible witnesses when they admitted that they had only fingered Wright to avoid the death penalty.

Wright’s second trial took place before an all-white jury. The state’s new witness was Doris Lambert, Wright’s former girlfriend and the mother of their child. She claimed Wright had confessed his guilt to her, although in his first trial she had planned to testify for him, and was never called to the stand. The prosecution suppressed Lambert’s history of drug addiction and mental illness. Also, Lambert reportedly received help regaining custody of her children in exchange for her testimony against Wright. Wright’s lawyer claimed he had been unable to locate a key alibi witness, an insurance agent, with whom Wright did business shortly before the murders. The jury discounted the testimony of Wright’s friends, who were with him in a club at the time of the murders. Wright was found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to death.

Appeals

Wright’s attorney continued to represent him in the appeals process, even after claims of ineffective representation were raised. Wright’s attorney was subsequently disbarred. The District Attorney acknowledged that he should have disclosed evidence about Doris Lambert’s psychiatric history and about deals made with Wright’s co-defendants. In the course of denying Wright’s habeas corpus petition, the U.S. District Court was critical of the state’s conduct. The court also wrote that "numerous imperfections in the state court proceedings were revealed," that "some of these imperfections like the state’s failure to disclose certain exculpatory materials – do not in any way deserve the blessing of this Court." However, it believed that a federal court was not the proper forum in which to re-try the case, so it denied relief and the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. The Eleventh Circuit found that virtually all of these claims were procedurally barred from review because they had not first been presented to the state courts. Two Alabama Supreme Court Justices voted to stay Wright’s execution citing evidence that "his conviction resulted from a lack of a fair trial" and "the likelihood that we are sending an innocent man to his death." Wright was, nevertheless, executed on schedule.

Conclusion

Freddie Lee Wright was convicted despite compelling evidence of his innocence and overwhelming evidence that he failed to receive a fair and impartial trial, free from racial discrimination. The State of Alabama withheld information from defense lawyers. It failed to provide Wright with competent legal representation. It excluded all African-American persons from the jury in order to secure a conviction – a practice later found to be an unconstitutional form of racial discrimination. (Batson v. Kentucky) Nonetheless, both state and federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, upheld both Wright’s conviction and his death sentence.

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