Police: Case remains a 'mystery'

Updated: October 28, 2010, 11:54 AM ET
By Amy K. Nelson | ESPN.com

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Memphis police have no official suspects in the murder of former NBA player Lorenzen Wright, and authorities said the case remains a "mystery" three months after his bullet-riddled body was found in a remote field.

"It is a mystery, but it's not cold," said police director Larry Godwin. "We have not placed it in the cold case file."

Wright, who would have turned 35 next week, was a local fixture who played at the University of Memphis and later professionally with the Grizzlies and five other teams. The father-of-six disappeared on July 19.

Lorenzen Wright

Wright

A 911 call early that morning made from Wright's cell phone ended after at least 10 gunshots were heard. His body was found in a Memphis field on a remote road, six days after he was reported missing by his mother Deborah Marion, and nine days after his ex-wife said she last saw him.

Public signs of progress in the investigation have been hard to come by since, which has frustrated Wright's family, associates and some in the local community. The Memphis Police Department is leading the investigation but several agencies have been contacted as part of it. Officials from the United States Attorney's Office in Memphis and the Drug Enforcement Agency declined to comment about their roles in the case. Godwin and Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton Jr. also declined to address which agencies are part of the investigation.

That the investigation could go beyond local authorities is related to allegations from Wright's ex-wife that he left her house on July 19 with a box of drugs, and separately, Wright's 2008 link to a top associate of alleged Memphis drug kingpin Craig Petties, who is awaiting federal trial on more than 50 charges, including racketeering, murder and kidnapping. According to federal court documents, Wright sold the associate two of his vehicles, which were later seized by the DEA.

"I have no comments, and this office has no comments," said U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton III.

Wright made more than $55 million during a 13-year career with six different franchises. He last played in the NBA during the 2008-09 season for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

At the time of his death, he was unemployed and in financial duress. His 12-year marriage to Sherra ended in divorce on Feb. 23, and court records show that he was ordered to pay her $30,000 a month in alimony and child support. He had multiple foreclosures on homes and at least tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid debts.

Four days after his body was found, Memphis police searched the home Sherra was renting in Collierville, Tenn. Police were looking for Wright's weapons -- or paperwork about them -- and any cell phones. They seized a few pieces of burnt metal from an outdoor fire pit and a letter addressed to the former couple. According to a Memphis police search warrant affidavit, Sherra told police that the two guns Wright had registered were kept in her van or her home, but they were never found; neither was his cell phone.

Sherra's accounts of Wright's whereabouts around the time of his disappearance have been inconsistent, according to public records accounts:

- A 911 call from Wright's cell phone was picked up by nearby Germantown cell towers at 12:05 a.m. on July 19, but Sherra told Collierville police three days later that Lorenzen had left her home at 2 a.m. with an unknown person in an unknown vehicle.

- The day before Wright's body was found, Sherra told Collierville police detective Neil Young that Wright had left her home at 10:30 p.m. with a box of drugs, returned later, then left again with money.

Sherra's criminal defense attorney, Coleman Garrett, did not respond to multiple attempts for comment. But Sherra's divorce attorney, Gail Mathes, said Sherra was trying to protect Wright's image in his home city, and that's why she gave different accounts to police.

"She realized she couldn't do that, she had to tell the truth first," Mathes said. "Sherra can't afford to publicly defend herself at this point. Her position is she didn't want anybody to see him in a negative light."

When asked whether Sherra was a suspect, Godwin and Wharton declined specific comment.

"It would just be highly inappropriate to even comment on any particular person or persons," Wharton said. "The only thing I can say is the investigation is thorough; we are not automatically crediting or discrediting anything."

"She's been interviewed, like we interviewed everybody else," Godwin said.

The whole ordeal has frustrated and saddened Wright's mother. Marion said last week she still hasn't received straight answers from her former daughter-in-law.

"If the wife didn't have anything to do with it, I wanted her cleared," Marion said. "She was the last person that saw him."

Buddy Chapman, a former Memphis police director who runs Crime Stoppers, a non-profit organization that works with tips from the public, said something is amiss in the case.

"It's absolutely appalling to me that we could have someone murdered of that prominent stature and yet it's like it never happened," Chapman said.

Marion said she doesn't believe her son dealt drugs. Many friends of Wright's agree, describing him as a country boy with few street smarts.

Phil Dotson, one of his closest friends and a fellow Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity brother, told ESPN.com last week that he dropped Wright off at Sherra's at 10 p.m. on July 18. Wright, the godfather to Dotson's two children, spent the night playing with the kids and didn't indicate anything was wrong.

"Nothing out of the ordinary," Dotson said. "The stuff that I'm hearing now, I'm blown away. I didn't know that guy. I think he did that on purpose because I think he respected our friendship."

Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at Amy.K.Nelson@espn.com.

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