NEW PORT RICHEY — The sounds of life echoed outside the courtroom, heels on a hard hallway floor, muted speech, shuffling steps in the room above. The inside of courtroom 2A was dim and silent as a crime scene video played. It showed a rural property at night, trees, a fence, a porch, a shattered window lit in the camera's head lamp. The jurors leaned forward to see.
The video was recorded on the evening of Feb. 11, 2008, shortly after the bodies of David and Sherrill Wright were discovered. The husband and wife, both 54, had been shot to death in their Shady Hills home three or four days earlier. Sherrill Wright's son, Jackie Braden, is on trial this week on charges he killed his mother and stepfather, hacked his way into their safe, stole more than $200,000 and 43 pounds of marijuana and partied at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino and a few beach hotels until he was caught.
The Pasco County Sheriff's Office crime scene video had no sound. It showed newspapers that piled up before the couple's bodies were discovered. The headline on one said "American Nightmare."
The lights in the house were on and the videographer walked toward them. Inside the walls and floor were white. Red place mats were on the dining room table. The camera moved into the master bedroom, where Sherrill Wright's body lay on the floor. She wore a sleeveless nightgown. Her long hair fanned out behind her. Her son, who lived with her, whom relatives testified never was employed, is accused of shooting her in the face, the neck and the thigh, standing just 18 inches from her as he fired.
The camera left the bedroom and went into the living room, where the television was still on. There was blood on the tile floor. Braden is accused of killing his stepfather first by shooting him once in the back of the head. David Wright's body was still in his recliner. The bullet exited his head, shattered a window and sprayed blood on a yellow valance above it.
As the video played Tuesday during the second day of Braden's trial, his eyes flitted to the screen a few times, his face passive, showing no emotion. Braden, now 40, mostly did not watch it.
David Wright was a general contractor who also ran a profitable marijuana selling business, the prosecution said. After shooting his mother and stepfather, Braden hacked into the safe, stuffed the cash in an Adidas gym bag and the marijuana in a suitcase and a feed bag, and fled the scene in his stepfather's pickup, experts testified.
When Braden was arrested at a luxury hotel overlooking the gulf, he had David Wright's wallet in his pocket and a garbage bag full of clothes, stained with his mother's blood, and pry bars, which still had the green paint from the safe on them, experts said.
Woodrow Wright, the 63-year-old brother of David Wright, testified Monday afternoon about finding the bodies of his brother and sister-in-law. He had been worried when he couldn't reach his brother for days. The gate was locked so he had to jump over it. When he got to the house the two dogs were barking at him, their heads sticking out of the bullet-shattered window. He cleared the glass and got inside the house. He saw his brother.
"I touched him to see if he was still alive," Woodrow Wright testified. "I knew he was dead when I looked at him, but I kind of hoped."
The defense gave no opening statement on Monday, although Braden's attorney could give his opening remarks before starting his portion of the case. Defense attorney John White spent Tuesday asking questions of the state's witnesses, such as whether the Wrights' home alarm was disabled, potentially allowing anyone to attack.
The experts testified the alarm was in working order.
Braden is charged with two counts of murder in the first degree, which, if convicted, carries a sentence of life in prison. The trial is expected to finish Thursday or Friday.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.