The Columbus Dispatch


Friday, August 10, 2001
NEWS   01C

By Tim Doulin
Dispatch Staff Reporter

Illustration: Photo

Mary Rhoades recalled trying to comfort a distraught Richard Wright as he searched for a way to apologize for accidentally shooting her daughter to death.

Wright, a Columbus police officer at the time, told Rhoades by phone that he and his wife, Jan Marie Wright, had been arguing when he walked out of their Perry Township home with his service revolver.

Mrs. Wright thought her husband was going to kill himself, so she followed in an attempt to stop him.

Wright told authorities that he was sitting in his car on May 16 when the gun accidentally discharged as his wife tried to take it from him. Mrs. Wright, 37, was shot in the chest.

Yesterday, the 35-year-old Wright, who joined the Columbus Division of Police in 1999, pleaded guilty to negligent homicide, a first-degree misdemeanor.

He also resigned from the police division as part of a plea agreement reached by his attorneys and the Franklin County prosecutor's office.

Common Pleas Judge Dale A. Crawford ordered Wright to return to court on Sept. 27 to be sentenced. Wright could spend a maximum of six months in jail or be placed on probation.

Rhoades came with her husband from her home in Florida to be in court yesterday.

She spoke outside the courtroom afterward and said that her attitude toward Wright started to change a few days after her daughter died, when she found out the couple had been arguing about another woman in Wright's life.

"I found out it was all lies he told us,'' Rhoades said.

Wright had little to say in court. After hugging his mother, he left with attorney Sam Shamansky and got on an elevator in tears.

It was the first time Rhoades had seen Wright since her daughter's funeral. "I just felt a hole in my chest and my soul hurt,'' she said.

Rhoades and other family members are convinced Wright was having an affair.

The couple started arguing at their Riverpark Apartments home, near the Scioto River and just north of Lane Avenue, the morning of May 16.

Wright had been seen with another woman at his daughter's recent music recital, Rhoades said.

Another of Wright's attorneys, William Meeks, would say only that "Officer Wright had a female friend and his wife was upset about that.''

Rhoades said Mrs. Wright had expressed concerns about her marriage during telephone conversations in the weeks before her death, but never any concerns about her safety.

Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said evidence in the case was consistent with an unintentional shooting.

Mrs. Wright had gunpowder burns on her fingers and the shell casing from the discharged bullet was not ejected from the semiautomatic weapon.

That seems to support Wright, who said his wife had her hand on the gun when it went off.

O'Brien said Wright shouldn't have been carrying a loaded gun with the safety off when he was in an emotional state.

Though Mrs. Wright's family approved the plea agreement, Del Rhoades, her stepfather, said investigators should have given Wright a polygraph test.

Wright was not asked to take a polygraph, Meeks said, because "This case was not factually disputed. It was pretty clear-cut.''

He assured that Wright did not receive favorable treatment in the investigation because he was a police officer.

"This was a middle-ground solution to a very difficult case for both sides,'' Meeks said.

Wright's mother, Patsy Wright, said her son is remorseful.

"He wishes this hadn't happened,'' she said. "It was a terrible accident.''

Tom Dodge / Dispatch
Richard Wright didn't say much during court proceedings. Afterward, he hugged his mother and left with tears in his eyes.

All content herein is 2001 The Columbus Dispatch and may not be republished without permission.