by Adrian Sainz —
A judge set a trial date Friday for Billy Ray Turner, who faces weapons charges in connection with former NBA player Lorenzen Wright’s slaying, while also casting doubt about whether the separate murder trial in the high-profile case requires a change of venue.
Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Lee Coffee scheduled Turner’s trial for June 17 on charges of being a felon in possession of a gun.
Prosecutors say two guns were found in Turner’s possession when he was charged in December 2017 with first-degree murder in Wright’s fatal shooting. Turner is accused of teaming with Wright’s ex-wife, Sherra Wright, to kill the retired NBA player in July 2010.
Sherra Wright also is charged with first-degree murder. Both have pleaded not guilty. The murder trial is set for Sept. 16.
Wright’s body was found riddled with gunshots in a swampy Memphis field 10 days after he was reported missing. His killing is one of Memphis’ most highly publicized murder cases ever, and it has gained national attention. Sherra Wright has written a book and the case has been the subject of television crime shows and documentaries.
Turner, a landscaper in the Memphis suburb of Collierville, and Sherra Wright attended the same church. Witnesses said Sherra Wright masterminded a plan to have two men kill Lorenzen Wright at his home in Atlanta, but that attempt failed, according to an affidavit read by a prosecutor in court. She and Turner then conspired to kill him in Memphis, authorities have said.
The judge also is set to address pre-trial motions May 28. Sherra Wright’s defense attorneys have asked the judge to move the case to another county or seat a jury composed of people from a separate county. Defense attorneys argue that intense publicity in the case would be an obstacle for a fair trial in Memphis.
Judge Coffee told lawyers during a hearing Friday that Shelby County, which sees the most murder cases per year in Tennessee, has a sufficiently diverse population to seat an unbiased jury.
“Don’t underestimate the ability of jurors in Shelby County to be fair to both sides in this case,” the judge said.
Police said they found a gun used in the killing in November 2017 in a lake near Walnut, Mississippi, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Memphis. The pair was indicted weeks later.
Sherra Wright received $1 million from her ex-husband’s life insurance policy. She agreed to a settlement in 2014 in a court dispute over how she spent the insurance money meant to benefit their six children.