Lorenzen Wright was a second-team all-American power forward from the University of Memphis who went on to play 13 seasons in the NBA for various teams. In 2010, he was found shot to death over a week after he was reported missing. The case went unsolved for over seven years, until finally a man was charged with first-degree murder and Wright’s ex-wife Sherra Wright-Robinson was charged with orchestrating the crime. Ahead of the 20/20 episode on the case, here’s what you need to know about the crime, the murderer, Wright-Robinson’s sentencing, and where she is now.
Wright Went Missing in July 2010
According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Wright and Wright-Robinson had recently divorced after a 13-year marriage. On July 18, 2010, Wright-Robinson was one of the last people to see the NBA player alive when he came over to her house that evening to see her and their six children.
Four days later, Wright’s mother Deborah Marion reported him missing to the Collierville, Tennessee police department. A spokesman for the department told CNN at the time, “We’re taking it very, very seriously and there is a high level of concern,” said spokesman Mark Heuberger. “His mom made the report because she felt it was unusual that he did not contact his children for an extended period of time, that’s what made her prompt to contact the police.”
His sister Savia Archie told CNN that this was “not like him.”
“I haven’t talked to my brother in nine days. He doesn’t go without talking to family. I’m trying to keep my faith in the world and that he’s not in trouble and hopefully he will come home. He’s my big brother. Without him, there’s no me,” said Archie.
According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, while the police searched for Wright, his ex-wife told them he had been involved in criminal activity.
Wright’s 911 Call Went Unreported
Ten days after he was last seen, Wright’s badly decomposed body was found in a meadow shot at least 11 times, reported the Commercial Appeal. They were able to locate his body because of a 911 call he had placed as he was being shot — though the Germantown, Tennessee 911 operator failed to report the call at the time. According to an Associated Press report on ESPN, dispatchers didn’t alert officers because they couldn’t confirm the call’s location.
Germantown dispatcher Claudia Kenley Woods said the police department’s mapping system couldn’t plot the precise location of the call placed in the early-morning hours of July 19, but the latitude and longitude indicated it came from outside their town. Woods and her supervisor, Lt. Donald Taylor, said they couldn’t tell the phone belonged to Wright.
When investigators finally learned of the call on July 27, they used information from it to launch the search that found Wright’s body. … Top police officials in the suburb of Germantown are investigating how the 911 call was handled and on Monday released some records, which they said they edited to protect the homicide investigation. … Taylor said he tried to use his iPhone to plot the coordinates but it did not work. He said he did not report the call to any outside law enforcement agency because “the information I had was an unknown call from an unknown location.”
According to Courthouse News, the Wright family sued Germantown, Collierville, and Shelby County over the 911 call issue. In the complaints, the family said the internet program that could have been used to pinpoint Wright’s location had been turned off because police officers had been abusing their internet privileges. But Lieutenant Taylor was able to get the latitude and longitude of the location and when he realized it was outside their jurisdiction, they did not alert the neighboring jurisdictions or the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department.
The lawsuit was settled in 2013, according to WREG. Collierville and Shelby County were dropped from the suit and the city of Germantown settled for $135,000. After legal fees, the remaining $85,000 was divided equally among Wright’s six surviving children (he was preceded in death by a daughter named Sierra who died of SIDS at 11 months of age).
The Case Went Unsolved for Over 7 Years
A break in the case came in November 2017 when the Memphis police disclosed that a gun had been recovered from a lake in Walnut, Mississippi, that they believed to be the one used to shoot Wright. It later came to light that the information came from Jimmie Martin, a cousin of Wright-Robinson who prosecutors named an “unindicted co-conspirator,” according to the Commercial Appeal.
A month later, local landscaper Billy R. Turner, 46, was charged with first-degree murder in the killing, and 10 days after that, Wright-Robinson was arrested on charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, and attempted first-degree murder, according to USA Today.
Turner and Wright-Robinson’s relationship was not disclosed at the time, though the Commercial Appeal reported they attended the same church. It later came to light Turner was Wright-Robinson’s yardman.
“I think we’re confident that they knew each other so we’re going to leave it at that for right now,” Memphis police Director Michael Rallings told USA Today at the time.
Turner had previous convictions on his record for theft, reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon, attempted kidnapping, attempted aggravated assault, and burglary.
Wright-Robinson Pleaded Guilty to Facilitation of First-Degree Murder
In 2019, Wright’s ex-wife pleaded guilty to facilitation of first-degree murder. Shelby County Judge Lee Coffee sentenced her to 30 years in prison with eligibility for parole when she had served 30 percent of her sentence, which would be in 2028. If she had gone through with a jury trial, Wright-Robinson would have faced a life sentence. She told the Commercial Appeal she took the plea for the sake of her children.
“I’m just going to say because of my children, I have made this decision, and because of them I’m not going to go into many more details right now, but I’m just going to say everything is not what it seems,” Wright-Robinson told the newspaper.
At the time of Wright-Robinson’s plea deal, Assistant District Attorney Paul Hagerman said in court, “Jimmie Martin stated that in the days before the murder of Lorenzen Wright, he was present at a meeting at which Sherra Wright, Billy Turner and he planned the murder of Lorenzen Wright” for the Wright’s life insurance money, according to the Commercial Appeal.
Prosecutors said that Martin received money for his part in the crime, helping clean up the crime scene with a metal detector. Martin had previously stood trial in Shelby County for the murder of his girlfriend, Martha Jean Bownes. The jury at his first trial deadlocked on the charge of second-degree murder. His 2012 retrial earned him a conviction and a 20-year prison sentence, but he was out on bond for the three years in between trials and that was when he helped murder Wright.
During Wright-Robinson’s plea appearance, prosecutors maintained that Turner and Wright-Robinson had been in a sexual relationship and had attempted to kill Wright one time before his murder. After Wright’s murder, Martin was enlisted to dispose of the firearm and clean up the crime scene. After he told authorities this, they set up electronic surveillance on Wright-Robinson and Turner and overheard them talking about police finding the murder weapon.
Turner has not yet stood trial for the murder. Earlier this year the trial date was set for October 26, 2020, but FOX 13 reported in August that the trial has been pushed back indefinitely due to COVID-19.
Wright’s mother, Deborah Marion, told FOX 13 that she will be there when Turner stands trial and she will be there when WRight-Robinson is first eligible for parole.
“We will be there in two buses,” she said. “One from Georgia and one from Tennessee full of people with signs saying, ‘No, no, she can’t go.’ We are going to be protesting like that. No, no. It is not going to be me. It is going to be Memphis, Mississippi, Atlanta, and Georgia.”
20/20 airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.