Homicide-arson case to go to trial

There is enough evidence to go to trial in the case of Michael William Wright, accused of brutally slaying his wife Lynn, placing her body in a bedroom closet and setting fire to their 1450 W. Fourth St. residence, Magisterial District Judge James G. Carn ruled at a preliminary hearing Thursday.

“The Commonwealth has established through testimony and evidence that the victim died of multiple stab wounds, fractures to the neck and blunt force trauma to the head. The defendant made statements he did in fact kill his wife,” District Attorney Eric R. Linhardt argued before Carn.

Pathologist Michael W. Johnson, who performed the autopsy, ruled the manner of death a homicide, according to Agent Trent Peacock. Johnson determined that Mrs. Wright predeceased the fire, Peacock testified.

Prior to being picked up by police, Wright made statements at a tavern that he killed his wife, according to Lt. Steven Helm, who responded to the Oct. 25 blaze. Wright made additional voluntary admissions of guilt while at City Hall, according to Helm.

“We allowed (Wright) to use the restroom. While he was facing the urinal he made the statement, ‘I killed my wife,’ ” Helm testified.

Wright made a second confession in the processing room, according to Helm.

“He said, ‘I killed my wife. I killed my wife. You want a confession? There’ ” Helm testified.

“To your knowledge, at what point, if any, was Mr. Wright ever advised of his rights?” Wright’s attorney George E. Lepley Jr. asked Helm.

“Not while he was in my presence,” Helm testified.

While Wright repeatedly requested an attorney, Helm “didn’t respond” to those requests, he testified.

“Were you aware that I was at the station attempting to contact him?” Lepley asked.

“No,” Helm testified.

Wright never was interrogated by police and therefore did not need to be mirandized, the Commonwealth alleged.

“I never asked him anything and we did not process him,” Helm testified.

Linhardt objected when Lepley attempted to probe the issue deeper.

“It’s irrelevant for the purposes of a preliminary hearing and the testimony is that the defendant never was interrogated,” Linhardt argued.

Carn sustained the objection.

Wright never asked police about his wife or her situation with respect to the fire, according to Peacock.

“In talking to Mr. Wright, I wouldn’t have known he was married,” Peacock testified.

Through fire pattern analysis, the point of origin was determined to be in the bedroom, centralized in the closet area, according to Cpl. Nicholas Loffredo, state police fire marshal. Loffredo testified that the fire was incidenary in nature because each of the accidental ignition sources in the room were “away from the point or origin or sustained no damage to indicate it was the ignition source.”

“As far as scientific evidence putting a match or a lighter in someone’s hand, I don’t have that,” Loffredo conceeded during cross examination.

An accelerant K-9 was brought to the scene and “gave a positive indication just off the south east corner of the closet in the bedroom,” Loffredo testified.

The K-9 positively identified the same area before and after investigators excavated the room, according to Loffredo. The dog also positively identified samples taken from the point indicated inside when they had been placed in cans beside a control sample, Loffredo testified.

“But you can’t with 100 percent certainty rule out that it was an accidentally-caused fire?” Lepley asked Loffredo.

“No, we can’t rule out with 100 percent certainty,” Loffredo testified.

Lepley argued that the charges associated with arson be thrown out on the grounds that “the Commonwealth has not made a prima facie case for arson” and “no statements were made by the defendant that he started a fire.”

Linhardt rebutted that “all exterior doors were locked with no evidence of forced entry. Those who would have had access to the residence were only the decedent and Mr. Wright.”

Carn ruled in favor of Linhardt.

Wright is being held on charges of homicide, two counts each of aggravated assault, four counts of arson and one count each of risking a catastrophe, criminal mischief, possessing an instrument of crime with intent, abuse of a corpse, tampering with or fabricating physical evidence and obstruction of justice.

Wright’s trial has not yet been scheduled.