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State v. Wright

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

February 12, 2015

STATE OF DELAWARE,
v.
CLIFFORD WRIGHT, Defendant.

Submitted: November 24, 2014

Upon Defendant's Amended Motion for Postconviction Relief DENIED

Morgan T. Zurn, Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice, Attorney for the State.

Albert J. Roop, V, Esquire, Patrick J. Collins, Esquire, Collins & Roop, Attorneys for Defendant.

OPINION

JOHNSTON, J.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL CONTEXT

In June of 2006, Defendant Clifford Wright ("Wright") resided with his girlfriend, Tamela Gardner ("Gardner"), at Gardner's home. Wright and Gardner had a contentious relationship. After the relationship ended on or about July 1, 2006, Wright began harassing Gardner. Wright's harassment culminated during the early hours of July 9, 2006, when Wright snuck into Gardner's home and murdered Gardner and her friend Gabriel Gabrielli ("Gabrielli") while they slept.

The exact murder weapon used by Wright is unknown. However, Gardner and Gabrielli suffered at least 8 and 11 injuries to the head, respectively, without displaying any defensive wounds. Following the murders, Wright dragged the bodies out of Gardner's home and into Gardner's van. Wright then drove the van to Tweed's Park, and set the van on fire. On July 13, 2006, the van, along with Gardner and Gabrielli's bodies, were found.

On January 22, 2008, a grand jury indicted Wright for, among other crimes, the murders of Gardner and Gabrielli. The State of Delaware ("State") requested the death penalty. Wright's jury trial began on October 5, 2009, and concluded on November 19, 2009. Wright was represented by Jerome M. Capone, Esquire and Brian J. Chapman, Esquire (collectively "Trial Counsel").

At trial, the State called two key witnesses. The first was Robert Mahan ("Mahan"), a convicted felon who shared a jail cell with Wright for five days in 2008 at the Howard R. Young Correctional Institute. The second was Jennie Vershvovsky, M.D. ("Dr. Vershvovsky"), the Assistant Medical Examiner for the Delaware Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Mahan testified that during the five days he and Wright shared a cell, they discussed Wright's background, Wright's relationship with Gardner, and eventually the murders of Gardner and Gabrielli. There were two critically important aspects of Mahan's testimony. First, Mahan testified: "[Wright] said Detective Abrams had told [Wright's] brother that the weapon used against [Gardner and Gabrielli] was a hammer and [Wright] proceeded to tell me…this wasn't the case at all…[Gardner and Gabrielli] were killed with a bat…an aluminum [baseball] bat." Second, Mahan testified that after Wright came back to their shared jail cell from a meeting with Trial Counsel, Wright appeared pale. He told Mahan: "[The State is] talking about executing me, taking my life." Mahan, in an attempt to calm Wright, told him not to worry because he did not commit the murders, to which Wright responded: "But I did."

A few days later Dr. Vershvovsky testified at trial. Dr. Vershvovsky was the forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsies of Gardner and Gabrielli. Dr. Vershvovsky testified that the cause of death for both Gardner and Gabrielli was "blunt force injury to [the] head." Dr. Vershvovsky did not opine on the specific object used to murder Gardner and Gabrielli, but did testify that: "It can be any blunt object which has a smooth, circular surface." When confronted by Trial Counsel on cross-examination as to whether a baseball bat could have been the murder weapon, Dr. Vershvovsky testified that it was a possibility.

At the close of trial, the jury returned a guilty verdict for all charges.[1]Wright subsequently filed a Motion for a New Trial.

Following the guilty verdict, but before ruling on Wright's Motion for a New Trial, the Superior Court held a penalty phase hearing from November 30 to December 10, 2009. At the end of the penalty phase hearing the jury returned a verdict of 7-5 in favor of death. On March 5, 2010, this Court sentenced ...


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