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Right Or Wrong?

This broadcast originally aired on July 23, 2005. It was updated on Dec. 26, 2007.

It's hard to say what's most horrifying: how Jeff Wright was killed, who killed him, or why she says she did it.

The woman accused of committing murder is Jeff's wife, Susan, 27, a stay-at-home mother of two. "I did not want to die," says Susan, who now faces life in prison.

"This was a brutal, terrifying, sadistic relationship that spanned years," says Susan's attorney, Neil Davis.

Susan Wright stabbed her husband 193 times. And Davis says he believes that Susan's husband, Jeff Wright, triggered the attack that ended his life: "I hate to say it, but some people just deserve killing."

That's how a lot of Texas lawyers interpret self defense. But what makes this case different is that Susan and her lawyers are saying it on the record. "She had to kill or be killed," says Davis.

Correspondent Richard Schlesinger reports.

It wasn't that long ago that Jeff, a successful carpet salesman, was smothering Susan with kindness. Susan was a waitress when they first met in 1997 on the beach in Galveston, Texas.

"He would call two or three times a day," recalls Susan. "When he was around me, he would bring flowers and little gifts and stuff. He was very sweet."

A year later, they married, and Susan was already eight months pregnant with their son, Bradley. "He wanted a house. He wanted a family and a dog, and it just seemed great," says Susan, who says things were good until Bradley was born.

"Then, everything changed," says Susan, who claims that Jeff became controlling and demanding. "Everything inside the house was my job, including Bradley, everything I needed to make everything perfect … Bradley needed to be clean and quiet all the time. The house had to be spotless, all the laundry done, all the cooking. It got to be pretty hard."

Susan says Jeff would yell at her the few times she complained and says this was a side that he never showed her while they were dating. It wasn't long, she says, before Jeff started beating her. It happened, she says, after Jeff had smoked pot.

"He threw me back against the wall and he grabbed me by my arms and shook me up against the wall and then punched me in the chest," says Susan. "He made me feel like it was my fault, because I didn't have a right to tell him not to touch his son."

Susan's sister, Cindy, a psychologist with a Ph.D., tried to intervene once, and moved her and the children to her parent's house. But they only stayed there overnight. According to Susan, "a moving van showed up the next morning and took me back home."

Why did she go back just a day after she was beaten? "I didn't have a choice," says Susan. "I was afraid of him, but as much as I was afraid of him, I loved him, and I wanted to be good enough to where things work."

But things got worse, and there were more drugs and more abuse.

Jeff's father, Ron Wright, says he knew his son had a drug problem, but that it was under control. He also says that the claims of physical abuse were all lies.

"She didn't have any symptoms of being an abused woman," says Ron Wright. "We don't abuse women. We love our women."

But Susan's sister, Cindy, says she saw Susan's bruises: "I've seen bruises all over her arms and legs. I've seen her on two different occasions with a black eye."

Susan's friend, Jamie Darr-Hall, also remembers that black eye: "I think she was being abused quite often."

Susan, however, never reported any abuse to police while Jeff was alive. She even had a second child with him, and says the abuse got worse after their daughter, Kaily, was born.

"She described herself as the wrapping on the package, that it was her job to make things look beautiful on the outside so that no one would wonder what it's like on the inside," says Cindy.

But inside the Wright house, Susan says there was nothing but emotional and physical pain, until Jan. 13, 2003, the last day of Jeff Wright's life.

Susan says Jeff had come back from a boxing lesson, and he had been using drugs. He started to spar with Bradley, who didn't want to fight back. She says he started hitting Bradley and stormed off when his son started crying.

Susan says she comforted Bradley and put him and Kaily, 1, to bed. Then, she says she confronted Jeff for the first time about his problems with drugs and violence.

"I couldn't go on and I was afraid of him. I knew if I left him, he would kill me. But I had to ask him to get help. And that was my big mistake," says Susan. "I wasn't supposed to give him ultimatums. I wasn't supposed to tell him what to do."

She says Jeff exploded, pushed her down on the bed and raped her. A moment later, he was back, this time holding a knife over her head. "I didn't want to die," she says.

Even though Jeff was almost a foot taller than Susan and 100 pounds heavier, Susan says she overpowered him by kneeing him in the groin. She then grabbed the knife, and started repeatedly stabbing him - 193 times.

"I was terrified because he was gonna kill me," says Susan. "I knew the second that I stopped he was gonna get the knife back and then I was gonna be the one that would be dead."

After the attack, Susan says she went into a state of shock that lasted a week. Believe it or not, she says she thought Jeff was still alive.

"I was terrified. I was panicked," recalls Susan. "I thought that as soon as he woke up that he was gonna be mad and I had to get him out of the house."

She buried Jeff's body in a shallow hole on the patio next to the bedroom. It was a hole that Jeff had dug as part of a home improvement project.

"I was so scared. I thought if I put him there and put some dirt on him that he would have a hard time getting out to come after me," says Susan. "I sat on the sofa waiting for him to get up and I watched all night, waiting for him to come back."

That week, Susan cut away the bloody carpet, dragged the blood-soaked mattress to the backyard, painted the blood spattered walls and bought more dirt to pile on top of her husband's body.

But she says she wasn't trying to cover up a crime: "The house always had to be perfect and everything had to be in order and straight and neat. And it wasn't."

Susan told her friend Jamie that she and Jeff had a terrible fight, and he had stormed off. Her friend advised her to call the police, file a report and change the locks. Two days after she killed her husband, Susan went to the police to get an order of protection against him.

"She was very believable to me, very believable. She had bruises on her arms that were consistent as to what she said happened," says Deputy Scott Hall, who photographed cuts on her hands that Susan said she got when Jeff attacked her.

"I had thought she'd been assaulted and that she had a legitimate report she was making. I had no reason to suspect anything else."

Five days after killing her husband, Susan says she had a horrible feeling that something was wrong, and talked to her mother about it.

"She asked if I killed him, and I just put my head down," says Susan. "At this point, nothing was making sense to me."

Susan's mother knew her daughter needed a lot of help, so she contacted attorney Neal Davis. "She appeared to be completely out of touch with reality," says Davis. "Because she appeared to think that her husband was still alive."

Davis then checked Susan into a psychiatric ward, and contacted the district attorney's office. "All I did was write down an address on the back of my business card," says Davis. "I said, 'There's a dead body at this address, and I can't say anything else.'"

The family of Jeff Wright says they never saw it coming. "I consider her some type of animal," says Jeff's father, Ron Wright.

Harris County Prosecutor Kelly Siegler says Susan Wright didn't have to kill Jeff, and that there was a simpler solution: divorce.

"She plays the martyr very well," says Siegler. "There's nothing we could find that shows she's telling the truth."

As the trial begins, Siegler knows that the jury could easily sympathize with Susan. "Mitigating factor from Day One was she's a pretty female," says Siegler.

"You have to make them see it and feel it and relive what happened to the victim. That's how you make a jury understand how horrible a crime it is."

Siegler reassembled the blood-soaked bed on which Jeff was killed - in the middle of the courtroom, right in front of Susan, Jeff's family and the jury. "The jury needed to appreciate how completely defenseless Jeffrey was when she did it," says Siegler.

Siegler also demonstrated what police believe happened that night, and said it has nothing to do with self defense. Jeff's body was found with neckties knotted around his wrists, and a terry cloth belt around one leg. Siegler told the jury they were used to lash Jeff to the bed: "So if the defendant were to get up on top of Jeffrey Wright - something like this - and straddle him."

Siegler said Susan seduced Jeff into agreeing to be tied to the bed with the promise of unusual sex.

"She seduces him. She gets him nude. She gets herself nude," says Siegler. "She ties him up, like they had many times before, lights the candles to make him really think this is going to be a great romantic night."

Siegler says Susan stabbed Jeff after she tied him to the bed. And she says that before Susan killed Jeff, she tortured him, making superficial slices to his penis. That's a direct challenge to Susan's claim that she killed her husband in self defense, when he came at her with a knife.

But Siegler thinks she can prove how the crime happened. Medical examiner Dwayne Wolf confirms that Jeff had used drugs before he was killed. But more importantly, he says that Jeff was tied down while he was stabbed.

"Out of his 193 stab wounds, almost all of them were on the front of the body," said Wolf. "And if a person is not restrained, they'd be moving. I'd be moving. I would have stab wounds predominantly on my back as I'm heading toward the door."

Siegler also has to deal with Susan's claims of abuse. And friends, customers and neighbors all said that Jeff seemed to love Susan and that they never witnessed any signs of abuse.

But Susan's mother, Sue Wyche, and her friend, Jamie Darr-Hall, testified that they saw bruises on her body.

Jeff also had a checkered past, had pleaded guilty to drug possession and had assaulted a former girlfriend. And Susan had to explain why, at 18, she was a topless dancer for two months.

After the prosecution rests, the stage is set for the most dramatic day of the trial. Accused killer Susan must now take the stand and tell her side of the story, as the star witness at her own trial.

It's up to her to convince the jurors that she was a battered wife, and that her husband attacked her with a knife. To save her life, she said she had to stab him 193 times.

"In his head and in his chest and in his neck and in his stomach and in his leg for when he kicked me," says Susan. "I stabbed him in his penis for all the times that he made me have sex, and I didn't want to and I couldn't stop."

Next, Susan reveals a detail that only her defense team has heard before. She says she stopped stabbing Jeff when she heard a knock at the bedroom door. She says she was covered with Jeff's blood, put on a robe, hid the knife and opened the door. Standing there, she says, was their 4-year-old son, Bradley.

"She's known all along. He heard it and she never told anyone about it," says Siegler. "And my God, what did he see?"

Susan's lawyer, Neil Davis, however, says this admission proves his client is telling the truth about what happened and why: "Who would want to get up there and admit that their child knocked on the door unless it was true? Who would want to get up there and admit they used two knives instead of one unless it was true?"

But Susan also has to explain how ties found on Jeff's hands and leg got there. She says she tied his body to a dolly she used to push him outside: "So that he'd stay on. I kept thinking that he was going to get up."

"Perhaps the most issue I felt, even more difficult than the 193 stab wounds, trying to explain to a jury how Susan thought her husband was still alive even though she just stabbed him 200 times and put him in a hole he dug in his backyard," says Davis.

After five hours of questioning, Siegler gets her chance. She shifts the jury's attention from Susan, the mother, to her past as a stripper. She also hammers Susan on whether or not she tied Jeff up before stabbing him.

"And when you stabbed him, the 56th time or the 89th time, or the 158th time, was your arm getting tired?" asks Siegler. But Susan never wavers.

After eight days of testimony, Siegler has the last word: "What you're left with is the word of Susan Lucille Wright, the word of a card-carrying, obvious, no doubt about it, caught red-handed, confirmed, documented liar."

Now, it's up to the jury to decide, and just as Siegler had feared, jurors have trouble seeing Susan as a murderer. But it's hard for them to forget the blood-soaked bed, and they had it reassembled when they deliberated.

Two days later, they reached a verdict: guilty.

"It's a shock," says Susan. "I just assumed that because what I was saying was the truth that everyone would believe it."

"I had no idea how anyone could look in her eyes and listen to her and not believe her," says Susan's sister, Cindy Stewart.

But it turns out that the jury did do just that, and jurors say her story just "wasn't believable."

What was most troubling to jurors was Susan's motive. They say they couldn't say what happened, what drove her to the edge.

But there were hints during the trial about what might have motivated Susan to murder her husband, including allegations that Susan saw her own mother abused, a charge her mother has denied.

After the trial, Susan's sister, Cindy, says she won't see her parents again, "because I love my sister." She claims their father sometimes beat her and her mother, and Susan saw it. But no one ever called the police.

And Cindy says that explains what happened the night Susan killed her husband: "I understood why she stabbed him so many times. She said she stabbed Jeff for all the times he punched her in the chest. And she stabbed him in the penis for all the times he raped her in the middle of the night. And she stabbed Jeff for my father."

Just as Susan's mother did on the stand, both of her parents denied Cindy's accusations in an off-camera conversation with 48 Hours. They said they've been good and loving parents, and that Cindy's charges have no merit or foundation at all.

Once the jurors convicted Susan, they have to decide her punishment, which could be anything from probation to life. In the end, the jurors give Susan 25 years.

Does Susan regret killing Jeff? "There are days that I miss him, but like I said, that night he was going to live or I was."

Susan's lawyers plan to appeal her conviction, arguing that Siegler prejudiced the jury with her "bloody bed" re-enactment.

Susan Wright is seeking a new trial.

Her children, Bradley and Kaily, were adopted by their uncle, Ron Wright and his wife Sharon.

Susan's sister Cindy has re-established a relationship with her parents.

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