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Dying woman's family fights to free her from prison
By Charlene Muhammad -National Correspondent- | Last updated: Nov 1, 2011 - 12:47:54 PM
RIVERSIDE, Calif. (FinalCall.com) - The family of a dying woman serving her 14th year of a life without the possibility of parole sentence continues its struggle to free her, hoping for clemency by Gov. Jerry Brown or an appeals court decision.
The case is an example of how the state's Three Strikes law fails defendants and the legally blind woman never received a fair hearing, according to family and supporters.
Patricia Wright has terminal cancer. Her family's efforts, support from national and state advocates, and recommendations for release by the prison warden and medical director have not resulted in release from the Central California Women's Facility. She was jailed on a felony conviction for murder and had two prior felony theft convictions. She has maintained her innocence.
The murder conviction was the result of prosecution for the death of her husband, and makes her ineligible for medical release. The family says they were told the three felonies prohibit her release on humanitarian grounds.
Two felony charges were lodged against her after her then seven-year-old son walked out of a model home with two toys. That incident resulted in two felony theft convictions—one for each of the cheap toys, said her sister.
A family torn apart
“It's hard for me to see my sister when I know what she used to look like. She tries to laugh but when I see her, she's real weak and in a wheelchair. She asks me when I talk to her every day, ‘What has the governor said, now?'” stated Arletta Wright, a staunch advocate for her sister.
Arletta Wright says her sister was railroaded and failed by the criminal justice system. The governor says he would need recommendations from state high court justices to grant clemency, says the family spokesperson. The fight to free Patricia Wright, however, requires a more aggressive defense but the family can't afford a private attorney.Still their hope lies in an appeal at the Ninth Circuit Court level.
“What comes to mind when I think about it is this woman is ravaged by cancer.It's costing the prison a lot of money, and there are grounds for granting the release,” said Geri Silva, executive director of Families to Amend California's Three Strikes Law in Los Angeles.
The Innocence Project has taken on Patricia's case and is investigating whether she was wrongly convicted. Her plight has garnered support from Dr. Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, executive director of the Association In Defense of the Wrongfully Convicted; Alice Huffman, president of the California State Conference of the NAACP; Michelle Alexander, author and head of NAACP Legal Redress with the Madera, Calif. NAACP; and Pastor Sherman Mitchell of the Victorville, Calif. Branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
The advocacy groups believe Patricia Wright's constitutional and civil rights were violated.
All of the organizations have either written letters in support of her appeal or asked the Innocence Project to investigate the case.
Nancy Lockhart, activist and author of “A Guide to Grassroots Organizing in Support of the Wrongfully Convicted,” posted a petition to free Ms. Wright on change.org, an online advocacy platform. She usually does not get involved in cases without thoroughly researching them herself, but the Innocence Project's involvement prompted her support.
“What really caught my attention was that Patricia was in stage four cancer. I felt she was innocent of the charge of murder and I felt there was a greater urgency to have her released so she could die at home with her family or get better medical treatment,” Ms. Lockhart said.
Prosecutors have argued Patricia Wright received a fair trial, was convicted, and should remain in prison.
“I would prefer, instead of Gov. Brown giving us a cold shoulder and being evasive, that he comes out and tells us, ‘I don't want to do it,' ” Arletta Wright told The Final Call.
On Oct. 11, Riverside County Judge Becky Dugan denied a motion to reduce the theft convictions to misdemeanors, which would have made way for a medical pardon.
“My sister is dying of breast cancer.She has four tumors in her brain. She just wants to come home and die in peace with her children and grand kids,” pled an emotional Arletta Wright, before Judge Dugan ruled.
“In May 2010, doctors gave Patricia six months to live but thank God she has beaten the odds. They're saying any day now, she could be gone. They've given up on her but I can't think that way about my sister,” Arletta Wright told The Final Call.
The setbacks in Judge Dugan's ruling and Gov. Brown's position on clemency disappointed but have not deterred those who believe in Patricia Wright's innocence.
This ordeal is so outrageous that the truth must come out, Arletta Wright said.
‘Innocent people get convicted'
Judge Dugan said she was compelled to deny the release request because of multiple probation violations.
But according to Arletta Wright, the violations were actually police calls regarding a family dispute.
“They were never referred to the D.A.'s office. She never went to trial. She never was tried by a jury or convicted. As far as they went was to the police station as a report,” she said.
In a back and forth debate in open court, Ms. Silva shouted to Judge Dugan, from her seat in the last row of the public pews, “The New York Innocence Project took on Ms. Wright's case ... Innocent people get convicted, you know!”
“I'm sure you believe that ... but I have to assume these convictions are accurate,” Judge Dugan replied.
Arletta Wright told The Final Call she is awaiting documents from the Riverside District Attorney's Office she says will prove no charges for any such violations were ever filed.
“The D.A. only brought those incidents up as charges to make Patricia look bad and to feed the judge's denial of our request. Judge Dugan said herself that if it wasn't for those other charges, she would have considered dismissing it. It's wrong what they're doing to my sister,” Arletta Wright added.
Felony convictions for children's toys?
The two cases against Patricia Wright are inextricably linked and have left her dying alone in prison.
She received two felonies after pleading guilty to being involved in 2nd degree burglary at an open house in Moreno Valley in 1989. She received a third felony conviction in 1999 on conspiracy to murder her then-husband, Willie Scott.
According to her sister, Patricia Wright pled to the thefts only because the attorney said she would certainly face prison time if she went to trial.“But if she pled to misdemeanors, she could go back later, have them expunged and be at home with her children,” explained Arletta Wright.
The family insists the misdemeanor convictions were somehow changed to felonies after the fact.
Alfey, her 29-year-old son, was seven at the time of the open house. He testified that he took the toys and walked out without telling his mother.“It's been hard growing up without my mom and celebrating Mother's Day. I don't remember the last time I've celebrated Mother's Day and it's affected growing up as a man, dealing with relationships.It's taken a toll on me,” he said.
He never dreamed putting the toys in his pocket and playing in the back seat of a car could land his mother in prison.
Ms. Silva said the case is convoluted and while she is not condoning that toys were taken, she argues it wasn't theft.
Alfey did what children often do, pick things up that don't belong to them, she said.
It was a model home, not a residence; he was seven, and the toys were worth 99 cents, Ms. Silva adds.
“This is about Moreno Valley, an area which at that time was predominantly White, a Black woman, and her Black child, who were already being followed by the Caucasian realtor while they were inside the home,” Ms. Silva continued.
As for the murder, no physical or forensic evidence links Patricia Wright to the crime, according to her family, but police reopened the cold case and charged her 17 years afterward based on what her brother calls a forced, false statement, and written accounts from Patricia Wright's sister-in-law, who has since said she lied.
Larry Wright told The Final Call he was in a Connecticut prison at the time Los Angeles police detectives questioned him about his sister's case. It was his first time being incarcerated and he wanted out so when they told him that if he cooperated he would be released, he agreed.
Larry Wright said he never intended to testify against his sister and just wanted to get to L.A.
Once in L.A., he recanted his statement, and when police realized he wouldn't cooperate, Larry Wright said they kept him in a padded holding cell with no windows for 17 days. “They fed me the same thing, a hard burrito, twice a day, every day at Parker Center and they interrogated me and told me to kill myself ... When taking (recording) my testimony, they would cut the tape off and rehearse what they wanted me to say,” he continued.
Mr. Wright and Janet Carcelin, the sister-in-law, recanted their stories, saying the taped statements were coerced by police. The jury still convicted Patricia Wright of murder. “The crime that was committed was that in America if you're Black, laws apply very differently to you and you're going to be found guilty even if there wasn't a crime,” Ms. Silva said.