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Just after 11 p.m. on May 1, 1993, police received a 911 call from state trooper Doug Wright. He said that his 34-year-old wife, Kimberly, had shot herself in the chest in their home in Fenton, Michigan.
From the get-go, several things about the case struck detectives as off, particularly since Doug was a trained member of law enforcement, investigators told “Accident, Suicide or Murder,” airing Saturdays at 7/6c on Oxygen.
By the time police arrived and found Kimberly lying on her back on a couch, Doug had moved the gun, he said, because he didn’t want their 9-year-old son to see it. He had also washed his hands and cleaned up the house.
“All these things are throwing up flags and saying something’s not right here,” Doug Sepanak, former patrol officer, Genesee County Sheriff’s Office, told producers.
Police looked into the history of the couple, who’d met when Kimberly worked as a police dispatcher. She gave up her job after their son was born. Although they found no reports of domestic disturbances, investigators learned that the marriage was on the rocks and that divorce proceedings were underway.
In his first interview with investigators, Doug claimed that he and his wife were separated and that he’d gone to the house that night to discuss the troubled marriage. Doug also said that he brought liquor and a gun. He then claimed that he was outside when Kimberly shot herself and didn’t hear the blast.
Doug had a great deal of knowledge about crime scenes, and he was able to eloquently explain to the lead investigator that it was a suicide, according to Lt. David Dwyre, a retired detective sergeant with the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office.
The medical examiner determined that the gunshot that killed Kimberly was a very close-contact wound but not a contact wound, and that didn’t align with a suicide. The cause of Kimberly’s death was deemed to be indeterminate.
Authorities dug deeper into Doug and Kimberly Wright’s nine-year marriage. Witnesses said he was a controlling narcissist who had extramarital affairs and abused his wife both mentally and physically. Doug was the one who filed for divorce and had moved in with his girlfriend.
Investigators considered that divorce is a radical life change. It can lead to depression and alcohol can exacerbate that. Doug was a seasoned police officer who, despite some past disciplinary issues, was a credible and articulate witness.
While Kimberly’s family members argued that she wouldn’t kill herself, “the lead investigator still thought there was some consistencies with suicide,” Dwyre explained to producers.
A few weeks after Kimberly’s death, investigators submitted their report to the district attorney for a determination on whether or not they had a case against Doug Wright. The forensic evidence, which had been degraded by Doug's actions, was weak. No charges were made. The case went cold.
Doug moved with his son to Boynton Beach, Florida. He married his girlfriend and got a job doing private security.
But in 1999, six years after Kimberly’s death, the newly elected Genesee County Sheriff made it his main priority to open a cold case unit. Kimberly’s reopened case was assigned to Dwyre.
Dwyre immersed himself in the case and interviewed everyone listed in the original reports. He discovered details about the victim’s turbulent marriage.
“Kim Wright had concerns, and she expressed them to various family members that Doug Wright had abused her, that he had killed their family dog, and that she felt that he was capable of killing her,” he told producers.
The goal of any reopened cold case is finding new insights. Detectives knew that the forensic evidence wouldn’t yield fresh information. However, new evidence could come directly from Doug Wright.
Dwyre approached Doug unannounced at his home in Florida. He told him that Kimberly’s case was still an open investigation and that he was the last person he needed to interview. Doug initially declined but eventually agreed to talk.
Doug agreed to meet Dwyre at a local hotel, where local police helped him set up surveillance and recording devices in advance. Dwyre’s strategy was to let Doug believe that he was on his side.
Dwyre's buddy act continued, he told producers, until he told Doug that he could prove that he was in the house when Kimberly was shot. “I lied,” said Dwyre.
“Then he tells me that Kim Wright was intentionally trying to get him at the house then so she could kill herself. So he’s injecting a new narrative into this interview, and he makes a mistake,” he said.
Dwyre added, “He says, ‘I was in the house when the shot happened. We got into a physical confrontation. I pushed her back on the couch and I started to walk up the stairs. I hear the gunshot.’”
When Dwyre asked Doug what he did next, the suspect said “he went outside and prayed for a little while.”
With the new statement, the medical examiner changed Kimberly's cause of death from indeterminate to homicide. The District Attorney’s office agreed to move forward and press charges.
Doug Wright, 50, was arrested for murder on August 5, 2002. His trial began on May 5, 2003, a decade after Kimberly died. Doug, who testified on his own behalf, waited for three days while the jury deliberated on his case. They returned with a guilty verdict.
Doug Wright was sentenced to 25 to 50 years on the charge of second-degree murder, the maximum sentence allowed, and two years for felony firearms violation, reported tctimes.com in 2003.
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