Lorenzen Wright case: Widow, deacon charged with murder of NBA star
02/16/2018 12:45 pm PST
UPDATE August 9, 2019:
Sherra Wright began her state prison sentence after pleading guilty to facilitating the murder of her ex-husband Lorenzen Wright, WMC-TV reports. It's unclear if Wright will testify against her co-defendant Billy Ray Turner when he goes on trial in September.
It's one of the most anticipated murder trials ever in the state of Tennessee: Two unlikely suspects charged in the brutal slaying of local NBA star Lorenzen Wright.
Lorenzen Wright was a favorite son in the city of Memphis, a local basketball star who went on to have a long and successful NBA career. But a year after leaving the game, Wright would make headlines for a completely different reason.
When Lorenzen Wright's life was cut down in a hail of gunfire, he left behind not just his devoted family, childhood friends and rabid fans; the hoops hero also left a daunting mystery that would confound Memphis Police for years.
The history of Memphis is rich and profound. It's where the King of Rock and Roll once ruled, and where another King died fighting for the rights of all.
But Lorenzen Wright staked his claim as the city's most recent favorite son -- not as a king, but a prince of the court. Lorenzen's swift rise to the top was rooted in deeply humble beginnings.
"I've been knowing him since the fourth grade. We met between our mothers. Our mothers were friends," Michael Gipson tells Crime Watch Daily. "We never lost touch, we always stayed in contact. We just had a certain chemistry."
Lorenzen Wright was a star at the University of Memphis. Then he catapulted to the NBA as the seventh pick in the first round of the draft.
His wife Sherra, the daughter of one of his youth coaches, accompanied Lorenzen on his road to stardom.
"I'd say it was the number one thing he cared about most in this world, were his kids. He always put them ahead of everything he did," said Gipson.
Lorenzen was crushed by the tragic death of a seventh child, a baby girl who fell victim to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The hoops star established a scholarship in her name and got deeply involved in philanthropy.
Lorenzen Wright played for several pro teams before ending up with his beloved hometown franchise, the Memphis Grizzlies.
"Everywhere we went, people wanted autographs, took pictures, it was huge," said Gipson. "He enjoyed it. He loved it. He embraced it. He never was selfish or anything. Anybody that wanted an autograph, he kindly gave it to them, he took pictures with everybody that asked for it. He was very humble."
"According to court records, he earned $55 million over the course of, I think it was 13 years that he was in the NBA," said Marc Perrusquia.
But by the time Lorenzen Wright's hoop days hit the final buzzer, his rags-to-riches story and brilliant career had dimmed to a familiar cliché: too much fame, too much fortune, much too soon.
"By the time he was done playing, he was broke, pretty much," said Perrusquia. "He had two expensive homes that were in foreclosure, and according to Sherra they had a lot of creditors after them."
"He's got a lot of family and people coming at you too, you got this money and fame and success," said Gipson. "The problem is he was a giver. He gave to anybody who put their hand out."
It's that dangerous two-headed monster that stalks the unsuspecting sports superstar, luring him down a path of self-destruction through money and women. Lorenzen loved to score in more ways than one. It turned out he was a chronic cheater. Sherra was devastated. Close friends were stunned.
"They were together for so long and what they put out to the public and to the family and friends was pretty much good relationship," said Gipson.
Lorenzen Wright had flamed out. Broke, divorced and now living hundreds of miles away in Atlanta, desperately missing his kids. He told childhood friend Michael Gipson he was rethinking his life.
"He's like, 'I might as well get back to my wife, you know, and just be happy.' That's what he told me," said Gipson.
Lorenzen Wright had dug himself a grave and filled it with bad choices; divorced and broke, he was soon to be gunned down in cold blood during a trip back to Memphis.
911 Operator: "Germantown 911, where is your emergency?"
Unknown caller: [gunshots]
911 Operator: "Hello?"
"They are words of panic, there's some cursing on there, and you hear gunshots, as many as 10, 11 gunshots, and this is him getting murdered," said Marc Perrusquia. "The call was picked up by a 911 dispatcher in Germantown and they never pursued it immediately. It's a shooting, but they didn't know it was a shooting. They tried to trace the call and they couldn't, and they somehow dropped the ball. They should have alerted Memphis."
It was an astounding and reckless error, one that hurt the subsequent investigation badly. Once Memphis Police were notified, they traced the call and found the body in a remote meadow.
Unfortunately, it was nine days after the murder.
"Whoever did it had a nine-day head start. If they could have found the body that night, the trail's much fresher," said Perrusquia. "He's been laying nine days in 100-degree heat in Memphis, and the body is just severely decayed at that point."
What clues existed were weak. Sherra told police Lorenzen left her house that night with a box of drugs and a man she didn't know.
"She mentioned that he was going to 'flip something' for $115,000," said Perrusquia.
There was some speculation that Lorenzen Wright had gotten tangled up with the local cartel.
"We had read something about him selling cars to some drug guys, so we just thought that was it, we was like 'Oh my God, what'd he get involved in?'" said Michael Gipson.
But there was no direct evidence linking Lorenzen to drug-dealing. Whatever the motive, police believe the former NBA star was double-teamed that night.
"The autopsy reports and the police have said that there were two different shell casing types, two different calibers," said Perrusquia.
Nine days lost and not a tip or clue that sticks. Detectives have to put the case on ice.
"That was the frustrating thing, especially for Lorenzen's mother Deborah, just this agonizing question of who did this and why, and you just don't get those answers," said Gipson.
Then, five years after her husband's murder, Sherra Wright pens a salacious novel, one seemingly based on her life with Lorenzen. It's called Mr. Tell Me Anything.
"The character, I guess he would be the antagonist in the book, a basketball player whose name in the book is 'Mr. Tell Me Anything,' he so closely resembles Lorenzen in that he grew up in Mississippi, came up to Memphis to play basketball, made the pros," said Perrusquia.
But the novel covers so much more, and seems to tell the real-life story of an unfaithful marriage, including characters like "Honey Blonde" and "Ride Or Die Chic."
"The theme that comes through is that of a very embittered woman," said Perrusquia.
Marc Perrusquia, an investigative reporter for Memphis Newspaper the Commercial Appeal, met with Sherra at a local restaurant, ostensibly to talk about her book.
"They're very graphic scenes," Perrusquia tells Crime Watch Daily. "And again, she catches her husband cheating with another woman in the act of it. And the other woman, I think she calls her 'Ms. Honey Blonde' in the book, she runs into a bathroom and Sherra comes and kicks the door in and proceeds to beat her up, like is whacking her on the head."
The words read like cheesy pulp fiction: "His face was all adorned in bright red blood and hers in black because of the smudged mascara and tears. They were even now, she was done. His money was poisonous."
In the book, Sherra's character is fat-shamed, beaten and even considers suicide over repeated infidelities on the part of the NBA player she's married to.
"She said she struck him with keys, like had keys in a fist and punched him in the face and drew blood," said Perrusquia. "So I asked her, I said 'Did this really happen?' And she says 'Oh yeah, that happened.'"
Now Perrusquia is wondering if this book of fiction is based on a true story. He changes the subject to her husband's murder.
Perrusquia: "Do you have any idea who did this?"
Sherra: "I don't know."
Perrusquia: "I gotta ask you this, but, I mean, did you have anything to do with his murder or his disappearance?"
Sherra: "I'm a mother. I'm a wife. I'm a author. And the police should find his killer. I'm a minister of the lord, and I've never been in any type of trouble or anything. I just, I'm a mother, a author and a wife."
And in fact, Sherra had become an associate minister at Mount Olive Church. But it's possible her brand of worship includes a certain moral flexibility when it comes to the truth. Remember her account to police that Lorenzen had a box of drugs and a friend she didn't recognize?
Sherra: "And I never said 'box of drugs.' You can write that because that's not true."
Perrusquia: "What did you say?"
Sherra: "I just said he had a box."
Perrusquia: "And they added the part about the drugs I guess. Did you tell them the first time that he was at your house and he left with somebody you didn't know?"
Sherra: "I never told them who he left with because I didn't see that, and so that would be an untrue statement."
Perrusquia: "There are accounts that you told police a few weeks before this that two or three guys came up to the house looking for him and they had guns. Do you remember that?"
Sherra: "No, I don't remember. I mean, I try not to even think about things like that."
"She told me in the interview that she was working on a sequel, and the sequel was going to be called 'The Whole Nine,'" said Marc Perrusquia. "And that's when I said 'This character in the book, Mr. Tell Me Anything, is he murdered?' And she says 'Oh yes, he is, and that's what the sequel is going to be about.'"
It was difficult to discern whether Sherra was just toying with Perrusquia, and even the police. A sordid book and conflicting statements do not make a murderer -- or at least one you can convict.
In the meantime, Sherra has collected on a life insurance policy for more than a million dollars, and in less than a year she's just about spent it all. Lorenzen Wright's father Herb is concerned about the children's welfare. He takes Sherra to court.
Former NBA star Lorenzen Wright was gunned down by the rapid-fire bullets of at least two guns in July 2010. The case was far from a slam dunk. Five years later it was still steeped in mystery.
Lorenzen's ex-wife Sherra had plowed through a million-dollar-plus life-insurance payout, then published a novel filled with jealousy, violence and vengeance that she claimed paralleled her own life.
"I said 'This seems to be about you and Lorenzen,' and she said 'It is.' She told me 99 percent of the book is real," said reporter Marc Perrusquia. "It says she was beaten at times. So somebody who clearly has you know some issues perhaps of revenge and bitterness toward this basketball guy, who was Lorenzen."
If one reads between the lines, a motive for murder may be gleaned from these pages. But in an interview recorded at a local restaurant, Sherra insisted she wasn't feeling any heat.
Sherra: "They didn't have any real suspects, if you want to quote that."
Perrusquia: "You asked the police that?"
Sherra: "I did and they just said that the list was long and wide."
Enter Wendy Wilson, Lorenzen's longtime personal assistant, who witnessed Sherra's rage in the years leading up to his murder.
"If she didn't get in touch with him, it was automatically, I think she began to be mistrustful," said Wendy Wilson. "And then from that to the anger and eventually to , 'If I ever caught him with anyone else I'm going to [----] him up.' And she said a couple of times, 'I'll kill him, I'll kill him.'"
Wilson recorded Sherra's threats and played them for Lorenzen -- and also gave a copy to police.
"I just wanted to make certain that I documented, just in case," said Wilson.
After Lorenzen's murder, Wilson reminded Memphis Police of those relevant threats. And neighbors even reported seeing Sherra burning items in the back yard of her home just after the murder. It was a blistering July.
Two more years would pass with no one in cuffs. And came a break from the bottom of a lake. FBI divers searched for five days in a row without tipping off neighbors. The covert mission proved to be fruitful.
"Authorities located the murder weapon in a lake near Walnut, Mississippi," Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich announced at a news conference.
The gun was traced back to one Billy Ray Turner, a man with an eyebrow-raising connection to Sherra Wright: He was a deacon in her church where she was a minister. He also had a landscaping business and mowed her lawn. Police won't say who tipped them off, or how they connected the gun to Turner, but it was enough to move quickly.
Surveillance video from Memphis affiliate WMC-TV shows the exact moment cops nabbed Turner at a convenience store.
"This morning the Shelby County Grand Jury indicted Billy R. Turner for the premeditated first-degree murder of Lorenzen Wright," D.A. Weirich announced.
Sherra Wright was arrested in Riverside, California, where she made her first court appearance. She was confined to a wheelchair for reasons unknown.
Since Lorenzen's death, Sherra Wright had married and divorced a police officer and was now on her third husband, a California record producer.
Sherra Wright was indicted on a three-count indictment, including first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, and criminal attempt first-degree murder.
Police believe Sherra had tried to kill her husband several times before, and finally succeeded.
"I think they place her at the scene in the indictment," said Marc Perrusquia.
Court documents also refer to an unindicted co-conspirator.
"'Operation Rebound' was what we thought was the perfect title for this case because in basketball, when you get a rebound, it gives you a second chance. It gives you another chance to score the basket. It gives you an opportunity to win the case," Memphis Police Major Darren Goods.
"We offer the court a plea of not guilty."
Both defendants maintain their innocence and await trial behind bars.
If Sherra is convicted, Lorenzen Wright's mother says she plans fight for custody of her son's children. Four of them are still under the age of 18.