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  • Jim Leach

THE KILLING OF AN NBA STAR

Updated: Aug 17, 2018

Former NBA and University of Memphis basketball star Lorenzen Wright was murdered near Memphis Tennessee in July of 2010. Wright was 34 years old and had been out of professional basketball for about a year after playing 13 years in the NBA.


On December 16, 2017 Memphis Police Director Mike Rallings announced that Wrights’ ex-wife Sherra Wright-Robinson and her friend Billy Turner had been arrested on charges involving conspiracy to commit first degree murder.  She was arrested in Riverside California. Turner is a resident of Collierville Tennessee, a suburb of Memphis. Turner and Wright-Robinson had attended the same when she still lived in Collierville Tennessee. Both remain in jail on very high bonds. The Director would not elaborate on the evidence.


At the time of his death Wright was living in Atlanta but had come to Collierville to visit his children. A friend says he dropped Lorenzen off at his former wife’s house at 10 p.m. on July 17, 2010.  Wright told his friend he would call him later to come and pick him up. Wright told his friend that Sherra insisted he come to her house that night. According to the friend, he never received that call from Wright to come and pick him up.. In Sherra’s first statement to police she said her former husband ran out of her house that night and she never saw him again. In a later interview she stated Lorenzen left with a box full of drugs and he said he was “going to flip” something for $120,000. She also told police two unknown men had been stalking the former basketball star.


A call was placed to Germantown 911 from Lorenzen Wright’s phone at 12:05 a.m. the next morning, July 18th. The call was interrupted by gunfire in the background, eleven shots in all.Nine days after his disappearance Wright’s body was found in a field near Hack’s Cross Road and Winchester Road in Memphis after police located the cell phone tower the 911 call was transmitted from. Weather had decomposed the body to some extent. It was determined Lorenzen Wright was shot five times by two different guns. Shell casings were found at the scene where the body was found. Of course, this would indicate semi-automatic (or automatic) weapons were used and possibly multiple shooters. He was hit twice in his skull, twice in the chest, and once in his right forearm. The victim’s watch and other jewelry were still on his body, possibly indicating this was not a robbery.


Sherra Wright –Robinson wrote a fictional novel titled, “Mr. Tell Me Anything”. The fictional work tells the story of a woman, Sharon Roberson, who is married to a NBA player (sound familiar?) and describes the basketball player as a womanizer who finally gets serious about another (younger) woman. Media reports say Lorenzen had a younger girlfriend when he and Wright-Robinson finally divorced. Sherra said the book was based on her life with Lorenzen and even indicated she was going to write a follow up novel in which the NBA star would be killed!


In a media interview in 2010, Sherra discussed her financial problems. Following her former husband’s death she received one million dollars from a life insurance policy Lorenzen had taken out on himself. According to the victim’s mother, Sherra was aware of the life insurance policy prior to Lorenzen’s death. Supposedly she spent the million dollars in about ten months.


The victims’ assistant, Wendy Wilson, remembers threatening messages from Sherra in the early 2000’s. Ms. Wilson is quoted as saying the messages “ were very disconcerting, threatening in nature. Very offkey. She (Sherra) was very jealous and very, very insecure”.  According to Wilson, Sherra said if she ever caught him (Lorenzen) with anyone else she would kill him. Ms. Wilson gave tapes of the messages to police.


The investigation revealed Lorenzen was in bad financial shape himself. Apparently he sold two luxury cars to a man with extensive drug connections, but, according to media reports, the DEA found no indication the victim was involved with the drug business. The evidence indicates it was strictly a deal to sell two expensive cars to raise some money.


About seven years after the murder, Jimmie Martin, who was in prison for murder, told authorities he had assisted Billy Ray Turner and Sherra Wright-Robinson in the murder of Lorenzen Wright.

Martin, who is 35 years old, is serving a 20 year sentence for murdering his girlfriend. He was acquitted of First Degree Murder in 2009 and was out on bond awaiting his next trial when Lorenzo Wright was killed. Martin says he and Turner made an unsuccessful attempt to murder Lorenzen at his home in Atlanta shortly before Wright’s murder. Martin says the attempted murder was spoiled when the attackers climbed through an open window and found an unknown man sleeping on the couch in Lorenzen’s home.


Jimmie Martin told police he was at a meeting with Sherra Wright, Billy Turner and a third person when the murder of Lorenzen Wright was planned. The investigation determined the third person to be Claudia Robinson. It is unclear how much of a role Claudia played in the murder.  Martin confirms the motive for the murder was the insurance money. A few days after the murder, Sherra came to Mississippi and got Jimmie to help clean up the crime scene. Sherra borrowed a metal detector from Martin’s mother to help find and destroy evidence. Apparently in all the excitement of the confrontation and murder, somebody dropped one of the guns used to kill Lorenzen. The gun was found with the aid of the metal detector and Butler and Martin threw it in the lake in Mississippi. Jimmie Martin told the police where the gun was located and that is when investigators found the weapon. Martin says he received “payment” for his part in the murder, but it is unclear what the payment amounted to.

Butler and Wright-Robinson were placed under electronic surveillance by the police and following the recovery of the murder weapon, investigators listened as the pair discussed the discovery of the evidence. Butler and Wright-Robinson speculated as to whether or not an informant was involved in the discovery of the gun. Later Sherra flew to Memphis from California and met with Billy Ray. Police observed and documented the meeting with photographs.


TRIAL ISSUES

Similar to the Holly Bobo case (see The Leach Report, July, August, and September 2017), the credibility of an informant witness who is also a co-conspirator, will be one of the main issues in the trial. Defense attorneys have already called Jimmie Martin a convicted murderer and a liar. They claim Martin lied forty times in his own murder trial!

It is not clear what motivated Jimmie Martin to come forward with the information seven years after the fact. Several possibilities may exist. Perhaps police discovered information tying him to the crime and when confronted, Jimmie decided he better cut a deal and cooperate with the prosecution. There could be some kind of personal reason, such as a family illness, that made Martin want to cut a deal and get out of jail as soon as possible. It could be that after several years of incarceration Martin grew a conscience and sought to relieve some guilt. The important point is for police and prosecutors to know what his real motivation is and be prepared to present that motive to a jury in a way that the jury can accept that particular motive as a reasonable and credible reason for Martin to come forward with information. Notice we emphasized real motivation. Many times the defense may know what the real motive is and it is different from what the witness told prosecutors and maybe what prosecutors told the jury in opening arguments! If the defense surprises the prosecution by divulging the true motive during trial, this tactic may make prosecutors look either deceitful or incompetent. If the jury has the perception that the prosecution is lying or did not do a thorough job of preparing the case it can be devastating to the prosecution! It is hard to see how the case can be tried without putting Martin on the witness stand to testify.


Is Jimmie Martin a liar? You bet he is! Everybody lies. The question prosecutors have to answer will be, is he lying about the facts of this case. It is important every detail he supplies that can be corroborated, is corroborated. Can police establish if there was a guy on Lorenzen’s couch when Martin and Turner supposedly attempted to kill the basketball star in Atlanta? Will Claudia Robinson back up what Martin says about the planning meeting? Of course, if Ms. Robinson cut a deal to testify, she has may also have a credibility problem. Where is the second gun? The forensic specialists say two guns were used. As far as we know, only one has been recovered.  There are probably other issues that have not been released to the media.


Were there other suspects, and, if so, were they totally cleared of involvement?

Is there any chance Billy Ray or Sherra might try to make a deal? The prosecutor may believe the case is good enough without another principal witness, in which case, probably no more deals will be made. On the other hand, if either Billy Ray or Sherra agree to testify for the prosecution, it could take away the need for a long and costly trial. If Martin and Robinson are already set to testify for the state and either Butler or Wright-Robinson makes a deal to cooperate, the remaining defendant may decide it is futile to go to trial and fight the case!


There will probably be discussion about the phone call and meeting between Turner and Wright – Robinson. Did Sherra sound fearful after the murder weapon was found, or was she only interested because it dealt with her former husband’s death? Did she and Turner try to have a “secret” meeting, or were they just getting together because they were friends? If the jury views photographs of the meeting, what kind of body language and physical demeanor are they going to see?


The defense could try to convince the jury that Jimmie Martin is the actual killer. In order to use this tactic, they just about have to admit their own client had some involvement, or was present at some point during the conspiracy or the murder!


We will continue to follow this case, much as we did with the Holly Bobo trial.

Jim Leach served as Special Agent in Charge for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. His book, “You Can Tell ME, a simple guide to effective interviewing” can be found at Amazon.com.