Susan Wright, the blue-eyed butcher of the Houston suburbs, is still a lovely young woman, still as polite and well-mannered as she was seven years ago, when she grabbed a knife, stabbed her husband at least 193 times, and buried him facedown in their backyard.
“Hi,” she said softly as she walked into the visiting room of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Hobby Unit, in Marlin, shaking my hand and ducking her head shyly. She was wearing dark-red Covergirl lipstick, which she keeps in a box for special occasions. She smelled nice too; just before my arrival, she had taken a couple perfume samples from a fashion magazine she receives in the mail and rubbed them across her neck. Her hair, blond at the time of the murder, had returned to its natural auburn shade. It was still damp from the shower she had been allowed to take an hour earlier. She settled into a chair at a table and nervously began to smooth out the wrinkles in her white uniform.
“How are you?” I asked. “Oh, I have nothing to complain about,” she said. “I live in a dormitory area with other women, and I have a photo of my children on a wall next to my pillow. Every morning I wake up and look at them.” For a moment, she stared at the floor and pressed her lips together. “Can you believe my son, Bradly, has turned eleven, and my little Kaily is almost eight?”
Bradly was only four and Kaily was not even two on January 18, 2003, when a lawyer named Neal Davis walked into the district attorney’s office and said that he represented a client who’d led him to believe that a body could be found at a small patio home in the heart of the White Oak Bend subdivision, in northwest Harris County. He refused to give any additional details, claiming attorney-client privilege. When police officers arrived at the address, they discovered the nude body of 34-year-old Jeffrey Wright, a 220-pound carpet and flooring salesman. He was partially visible in his grave because the Wright family’s dog had dug him up. Jeffrey had been stabbed all over the front of his body. Neckties were knotted around his wrists, and a bathrobe sash was wrapped around one of his ankles. Inside the house, blood was splattered throughout the master bedroom, including on the bed, the floors, the walls, the ceiling, and the ironing board.
Investigators called Davis and asked if his client happened to be Jeffrey’s wife, Susan, who was then 26 years old. Yes, Davis replied, but she would not be speaking to them. She was in the psychiatric ward of Ben Taub General Hospital, babbling to herself. She believed Jeffrey was roaming the hallways, trying to find her so that he could beat her to death.
And thus began one of the most macabre murder cases in modern Texas history, culminating in a trial so lurid that Court TV broadcast it, gavel to gavel, across the country. CBS’s weekly true-crime program, 48 Hours Mystery, devoted an entire show to the Wright killing; the obligatory pulp paperback, A Wife’s Revenge , was published about the case; and Hollywood producers came sniffing around, hoping to turn the whole saga into a made-for-television movie.
As a study in courtroom sensationalism, the drama was indeed difficult to beat—“the most exciting trial, bar none, that I’ve ever watched, the kind of thing you think only happens on Law & Order ,” recalled Jenna Jackson, a veteran 48 Hours producer who saw all the testimony. When Wright took the witness stand, she tearfully told jurors one horrific tale after another about the abuse she had secretly endured during her five-year marriage. Beneath her husband’s congenial, backslapping persona, she testified, was a sadistic, drug-abusing brute who’d belittled and controlled her, kicked and punched her when she didn’t do what he wanted, and sexually assaulted her whenever he felt like it. On the evening of January 13, 2003, Susan said, Jeffrey returned home from a boxing lesson high on cocaine, tried to get Bradly to box with him, popped him in the face with his fist, and later attacked her after she told him he had to get help for his anger. He then ordered her to get into bed, where he raped her. Afterward he left for a few moments. When he returned, he was holding a butcher knife. He waved it over her head, shouting, “Die, bitch!”
“I threw my hands up, then I grabbed the knife, and I started kicking him with my right knee,” Wright testified to the riveted, standing-room-only crowd. “His grasp on the knife loosened just a little bit and I got it from him.” She said she first stabbed him in the neck, and then she kept stabbing him, because “I knew the second that I stopped that he was going to kill me.”
At one point during Wright’s frenzy, Bradly knocked on the bedroom door. Despite the fact that she had already stabbed Jeffrey multiple times, she was convinced that he was going to get up and come after her. So Wright said she tied her husband’s right arm to the bed with a necktie before hiding the knife and walking Bradly back to his room. Then she got another knife from the kitchen, thinking Jeffrey might have found the first one. “I knew he was going to kill me,” she said. “And I was so scared because I didn’t want to die. I started stabbing him again.” She said she began stabbing his legs for all the times he’d kicked her, and she stabbed his penis “for all the times that he made me have sex and I didn’t want to.”
Finally, she testified, she cut the tie connecting his hand to the bedpost and pulled him off the bed. His shoulder hit the nightstand, spilling the wax from a red candle Jeffrey had lit earlier that evening onto his body.