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"Courtroom Theater" Helps Texas Prosecutor Convict "Blue-Eyed Butcher" Susan Wright
Susan Wright said it was self-defense when she tied her husband, Jeff Wright, to the bed and stabbed him a whopping 193 times.
Tough-as-nails veteran prosecutor Kelly Siegler is giving Oxygen audiences a front-row seat into some Texas-sized justice, beginning with a father who was stabbed 193 times.
In Prosecuting Evil with Kelly Siegler — airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen — Siegler takes viewers to the Harris County Evidence Archives to review one of the hundreds of cases covered across her 21-year-long career. In this case, a broken knife, shovel, and parts of a bed helped her recall a grisly 2003 murder of a man buried at his Houston-area residence.
“I haven’t seen this stuff in over 20 years, and looking through all this makes me feel like I’m right back in that courtroom all over again,” Siegler told Prosecuting Evil.
A defense attorney sends deputies to a grisly crime scene
On the evening of January 18, 2003, a defense attorney entered the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, claiming that investigators could find a dead body behind a Berry Tree Drive address. It wasn’t long before investigators — including Siegler — deduced that the attorney provided legal representation for someone with direct knowledge of the person’s death.
Deputies with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (H.C.S.O.) were on the case, arriving at the residence in the middle of the night.
“When they looked inside that patio portion, they saw the head and shoulder of what they believed to be a male subject,” according to Sgt. Chuck Leithner for the H.C.S.O.'s Homicide Division.
On the partially buried body, investigators found ligatures and cloth wrapped around the victim’s wrists and ankles, plus “a massive amount of stab wounds,” H.C.S.O.’s Sgt. Mark Reynolds told Prosecuting Evil.
Nearby, a hunting knife believed to be the murder weapon was discovered in a flowerpot.
“There were all these things in the backyard that should have been in the house: a mattress that was bloody, the sideboards, the headboard, the footboard,” said Siegler. “It was just chaos.”
Inside the home, investigators found the main bedroom in complete disarray, something Reynolds compared to “a tornado.” Someone had also attempted to clean up, based on painting equipment and bleach found at the crime scene, though blood spatter remained on the walls and nightstand.
Fingerprint analysis concluded the body belonged to Houston father-of-two Jeff Wright, but his wife, Susan Wright, and their two young children were nowhere to be found.
However, after speaking with relatives, detectives learned Susan Wright had recently checked herself into a psychiatric facility, and the two young children were, thankfully, safe with family members.
Susan Wright’s Claims of Domestic Violence
Days after the gruesome discovery, the Medical Examiner concluded Jeff Wright was stabbed a whopping 193 times. The murder was so brutal that the tip of the knife — which matched the one found in the flowerpot — was found inside the victim’s head.
Pre-mortem nicks were present on the victim’s penis and eyeball, something Kelly Siegler considered “signs of torture.” Red wax was also found on the victim’s legs and around the groin.
Looking into the married couple’s most recent activity, homicide detectives learned that just three days before law enforcement found Jeff’s body, on Jan. 15, 2003, Susan filed a domestic violence complaint against Jeff with the Harris County Constable. In her filings, Susan accused Jeff of assaulting her and their young son.
Susan also claimed Jeff was prone to cocaine-fueled rages, which supported the postmortem reports revealing positive signs of the drug.
Others, like Jeff’s friend, Retha Pyle, were less inclined to believe there was domestic abuse in the household.
“The Jeff that I knew, he would never ever abuse his children,” Pyle told Prosecuting Evil. “He loved them so much.”
During the investigation, Susan refused to speak with law enforcement, only corresponding through her attorney. On Susan’s behalf, her attorney released a public statement, claiming Jeff abused his client over a four-year period.
For Kelly Siegler, who herself grew up in an abusive household, the case became a personal one.
“I was never just going to discount a woman saying she was abused and blow it off,” Siegler told Prosecuting Evil. “That was never going to happen, but I also wanted the proof.”
A Wife Charged with Murder
On Jan. 23, 2003, Susan Wright was charged with murdering her husband, purportedly on Jan. 13, 2003 — five days before Jeff’s body was discovered at his home. Accompanied by her attorney, she surrendered to authorities the following day, pleaded not guilty, and was released on bond.
Siegler, working on the prosecution, believed Susan killed Jeff, filed the domestic violence complaint, retained an attorney, and then entered a mental health facility “to hide from police,” in that order.
A trial date was scheduled for February 2004.
Defense attorneys proffered Susan killed Jeff in an act of self-defense, citing photos taken with the county constable’s office, which showed scratches and bruises on Susan’s body.
“I think that Susan might have gotten a couple of the bruises from murdering Jeffrey,” Siegler told Prosecuting Evil. “She might have gotten some of the scratches from the knife she was holding. But I bet she got most of those bruises from pulling apart a four-poster bed and dragging a 220-pound body across her bedroom, across her patio, and putting him in that hole. She probably got pretty dinged up doing all that.”
The prosecution alleged self-defense wasn’t plausible, given that the victim was tied and restrained for the duration of the killing. As for a motive, they believed Susan murdered Jeff because she didn’t want a divorce while also factoring in a $200,000 life insurance policy against the husband.
Kelly Siegler's Theatrical Performance
Siegler’s courtroom manner drew controversy, especially in that she chose to have the bed in which Jeff was killed carried into the courthouse and constructed before the jurors.
“You gotta make it come alive; you can’t just sit in your chair and talk to the witness in the stand and just discuss it theoretically,” Siegler told Prosecuting Evil. “You gotta make it hit home to a jury; hit ‘em upside the head with it. That’s what you have to do.”
Siegler thought of the bed as the “murder weapon, just like the knife,” reenacting what she believed happened on the night of the murder. She used Sgt. Reynolds and another prosecutor to help portray how Susan straddled her husband and tied him to the bed before stabbing him to death.
According to Siegler, Susan sexually lured Jeff, accounting for why candle wax was found on his body.
The reenactment of the killing would make headlines, stirring controversy and praise within the courts.
“What Kelly did — recreating her take of what happened — was genius,” defense attorney and legal analyst Brian Wice told Prosecuting Evil. “It was courtroom theater.”
Susan Wright is tried and convicted
Susan Wright sobbed throughout the proceedings. And though she’d long refused interviews with law enforcement, she told her side of the story when taking the stand.
According to Susan, on Jan. 13, 2003, Jeff came home from a boxing lesson in an “agitated” and “excited” state. He began sparring with their son by “making jabs at Bradley’s head.” Susan said she attempted to try and talk Jeff into seeking help for his cocaine addiction and anger issues, but then Jeff allegedly produced a knife, which Susan said she wrestled from his grip.
Susan said she somehow tied Jeff up and got him into bed, killing him for fear he’d retaliate for her overpowering him during the fight. She also claimed the candle wax wound up on the victim’s groin after she stabbed him and dragged him from the bed, accidentally hitting the nightstand during the process.
Siegler said the account “just didn’t make sense.”
“I started the cross-examination with the plan to be very calm and even-keeled and not get bitchy,” Siegler told Prosecuting Evil. “But it was easy to get annoyed with her because she was lying.”
Prosecutors also used evidence of a crime scene cleanup against Susan, and after a week and a half of trial and five hours of deliberations, a jury found Susan guilty as charged.
Susan was initially sentenced to 25 years in prison. However, after multiple appeals, Susan was afforded a new sentencing hearing and resentenced to 20 years behind bars. The decision was made on the grounds that Susan’s attorneys didn’t present enough of a battered woman’s defense at trial.
Kelly Siegler told Prosecuting Evil: “I can’t argue with that.”
“Does she deserve a whole new punishment hearing because of that strategic choice that they all made? I didn’t think she did,” Siegler continued.
Just as the case and trial garnered high media publicity, which earned Susan the moniker “Blue-eyed Butcher” by local outlets, her December 20, 2020, release from prison also grabbed the spotlight.
Looking back at her courtroom performance, Siegler maintained it was “the right thing to do.”
“I guarantee you there is not one single person that was in that courtroom that walked away not knowing exactly what Susan Wright did,” Siegler said.
Watch all-new episodes of Prosecuting Evil on Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.