Even after tears and expressions of anger from family members of murder victims Randall Craig Anderson of Mabelvale and Joe Lee "Joey" Richards Jr. of Benton, Marissa Lynn Wright of Traskwood continued to smile.
Wright appeared before Saline County Circuit Judge Gary Arnold early Wednesday and, through a plea arrangement, entered two guilty pleas to murder in the first degree.
Arnold sentenced Wright to two life sentences with the Arkansas Department of Correction. The sentences will run concurrently.
The Saline County Prosecuting Attorney's Office previously had sought the death penalty for Wright.
"She's an evil person. She's killed (people) more than once and, if given the opportunity, she'd probably kill again," said Mike Richards, brother of Joey Richards. "The family and I have discussed this and we feel that Marissa (Wright) is not getting what she deserves, but she is getting what we can get.
"There are two sides, one telling us that we want her to suffer a slow death like my brother did, but there is also a Christian side that wants us to leave it to the judgment of God," he said. "My father (Benton Alderman Joe Lee Richards) wants us to leave it in God's hands."
Anderson's daughters also testified about the losses they have experienced because of Wright's actions. They spoke about Anderson not being able to see his grandchildren or spend holidays with their family.
Throughout the proceeding, from the emotional outpouring of the Anderson daughters and Richards' testimony, Wright did not look toward them nor did she appear to be listening. Wright continually engaged in conversation with a defense attorney and looked at her family members gathered behind her seat.
When Wright left the courtroom, she continued smiling at reporters, but did not answer questions. Before the start of the proceeding, Wright smiled and waved at family members and a sheriff's deputy.
Wright, however, was required to stand Arnold and enter the guilty pleas. The only emotion she showed from the start to the end of the proceeding was a smile.
It was revealed in the proceeding that Myra Fay Terry of Hot Springs Village helped Wright dispose of the body of Joey Richards in the backyard of Wright's home.
Terry previously negotiated a plea to testify in the Wright trial in exchange for 10 years' probation. She pleaded guilty to charges of hindering apprehension or prosecution, abuse of a corpse, and tampering with physical evidence in the Oct. 8, 2010, death of Joey Richards.
Benton police began a missing person case for Joey Richards on Oct. 20, 2010, after his father reported that he had not returned home nor contacted any family members for 12 days. Joe Lee Richards Sr. told authorities that his son's truck was found 11 days before he made the report. The vehicle had been parked in front of the family's shop door in a spot where Joey Richards "normally did not park." The elder Richards also found his son's wallet, cell phone, and laptop computer inside the vehicle.
After a year of following leads, numerous law enforcement officials served a warrant at Wright's home on Oct. 5, 2011, and discovered not only Joey Richards' body, but also the body of Anderson. Joey Richards' body was found under a pile of blocks near the back door of the home, while Anderson was discovered buried underneath a koi pond in the backyard.
In a suicide note, Wright admitted to law enforcement officials that she had committed the murders. She also admitted to the murders of Anderson and Joey Richards in a video-recorded interview at the Saline County Sheriff's Office.
It was then that Wright talked about how 20 years earlier she had had a relationship with Anderson, but later broke it off when he became abusive. She said she moved all over the country to get away from him. She said she eventually returned to Traskwood to care for her father, and one day heard Anderson on a telephone answering machine that he also had moved back to Saline County. Wright said though she fought for Anderson to leave her alone, even paying a friend $100 to "take him wherever he wanted to go," Anderson moved into her home.
She said one day while at work, she phoned Anderson who was "out of breath." Wright said she went home and found numerous duffel bags filled with her possessions outside the home, as well as discovering the home inside was "destroyed." Wright admitted today that she struck Anderson in the back with an ax handle, but he managed to jump a fence and run through a field behind her home. Wright also admitted that she called Jay W. Beeson Jr., also a convicted murderer, who found Anderson and forced him back to her home at gunpoint.
Wright admitted that the two then tied Anderson up, placed plastic sheeting over his head and then left Anderson alone in the home. County Prosecutor Ken Casady said that Anderson died from blunt force trauma and suffocation.
Beeson also faces charges of capital murder and kidnapping for involvement in the Anderson death.
Wright, who said in the audio tape "I intentionally killed Anderson," told detectives that "I told him. I hope it was worth it ... it cost him his life."
In the same interview, Wright said, "I never ever meant to kill (Joey Richards)." She said that the relationship with Joey Richards started off well, but then deteriorated.
In court today Wright testified that Joey Richards barged into her home on Oct. 8, 2010 and began fighting with the occupants inside. Wright admitted that she grabbed a gun and shot Richards, that the occupants except for Terry left the home, that no medics were contacted to come to the home, and that later she and Terry disposed of Joey Richards' body behind her home.
"I want the death penalty," Wright said in the recorded interview with detectives. "I deserve the death penalty, don't you think? I don't want this to go to trial. I just want this to be over with."
She also said on the recording, "God forgives me for that because I tell you, I would do it again. My soul is cleansed."
***Background story on Marissa Wright, previously published by The Saline Courier:
When Marissa Lynn Wright of Traskwood stepped out of the Benton Police Department, shackled and handcuffed, around 1 p.m. Thursday, she had just learned of being charged with capital murder after a near year long investigation into the disappearance of Joe Lee Richards Jr. of Benton.
As the lens of a camera continuously flashed her picture, 50-year-old Wright jolted a joyful "Hey" to The Saline Courier reporter. She smiled, laughed and said "It's a beautiful day" to the barrage of questions about two bodies found in the backyard of her home at 2902 W. Main St. in Traskwood early Wednesday.
While the Benton police are charging Wright for the case of Joe Lee Richards Jr., the Saline County Sheriff's Office is gathering evidence for possible charges for the second discovered body. Sheriff Bruce Pennington said at a Thursday press conference that they know the identity of the second body, but will not release the name until the family is notified. He also noted that deceased person was not reported previously as a missing person.
Officers also told the Courier that there could be more people charged, and that there could be more charges for Wright as the investigation continues.
As officers loaded Wright into the police cruiser to take her to the Saline County jail, she refused to answer if she had in fact killed Joe Lee Richards Jr., rather she muttered "Huh?" and "What?" while smirking at the reporter. There was no explanation about why two corpses were found behind her home, what her role was, or if anyone else was involved.
Flashback to Nov. 29, 1989 when Marissa Wright was known as Marissa Bragg. Her live-in boyfriend of the time Darrell Frank Pilcher of North Little Rock was facing a capital murder charge for the shooting death of Jeff Rhodes of Benton.
Bragg was also previously charged with murder, but was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony.
It was revealed during the trial that Pilcher and Bragg drove in her truck on April 3, 1989 to the Tull Bridge in Grant County for a cocaine deal with Rhodes. Bragg testified that Pilcher then drove off on Rhodes' motorcycle to get money, which left her alone with Rhodes.
Pilcher reportedly admitted to shooting Rhodes because of "a crime of passion" when he found Rhodes and Bragg involved in a sexual act. After reportedly shooting Rhodes twice in the head with a 0.38-caliber pistol, Bragg said the two placed him in the bed of a pickup truck and drove to several locations in Saline and Pulaski County before eventually disposing of his body at a dumpsite in the Crows community. Testimony also included statements that Pilcher attempted to cut off Rhodes' head with an ax, but didn't succeed.
At the dumpsite, one or both of the couple set fire to the body, authorities said. A passerby later found the body smoldering at the site.
Pilcher was picked up for parole violation on June 23, 1989 in North Little Rock and formally charged with Rhodes' murder on July 3, 1989. According to testimony, while Pilcher was in jail, Bragg admitted that she "had gotten drunk" in order to be sent to jail to see him.
There was also testimony from a Lester Henson, who was at the jail that day for a DUI charge, who claimed to over hear Bragg at the Saline County jail admitting to lying in her police statements. Henson testified that he was positioned in such a way that he could hear everything that was said between Bragg and Pilcher. He testified that Bragg said, "Frankie, I love you. I'm sorry I lied. If there's any way I can change my statement to help you, I will."
Then deputy prosecutor Bob Alsobrook also pointed out in the trial that Bragg testified "she had not been truthful during the first two statements she gave authorities, but said she told the truth on the third statement."
Pilcher was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life without parole. He continues to be an inmate of the Cummins Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction.
Bragg, who later went back to her maiden name Wright, was free. She has also had a few encounters with law enforcement officials, both reporting and being at the scene of crimes, since that day on Nov. 29, 1989.
On June 12, 2009, Wright was involved in a domestic disturbance in the 2900 block of W. Main St. in Traskwood, according to a Saline County Sheriff's report. A victim told police that while at the residence with his children, Wright came out of the home, pointed a pistol at him and cursed at him. The victim said he walked to the porch to get his oldest son, when another person pushed him and Reaves Wright kicked him. The victim told police that Marissa Wright continued to point the pistol at him, and that he later got away with his two children.
A sheriff's deputy said during the arrest of Marissa Wright, "she was very belligerent, loud and disorderly at the scene. She was also extremely uncooperative during the investigation."
Wright was reportedly charged with aggravated assault (pistol) and endangering the welfare of a minor. The report noted that a suspect that was arrested for third degree domestic battery from the incident asked not to be placed in the same cell with Wright.
Flash forward to Oct. 8, 2010, which according to the ADC is coincidentally Pilcher's birthday. That was the day that Joe Lee Richards Sr., a longtime Benton alderman, said he last saw his son. He told the Courier that though his son was not inside the home, the property of the younger Richards, including his wallet, had been left behind.
"It was really strange," the older Richards said. "I went to bed the night before around midnight and he was on the computer. I got up the next morning and his truck, billfold, and what little cash he had was left behind. He didn't give me any indications that he was leaving to go anywhere but work, but he sure would have taken his identification with him."
For nearly a year, reports from the Benton Police Department was that detectives were diligently working the case, but had no good leads to solving the disappearance of Joe Lee Richards Jr. The elder Richards also never gave up hope.
"When I first reported my son missing, I figured the officers would solve it eventually," he said. "I have all the support and extreme confidence in the local law enforcement."
Joe Lee Richards Sr. has now been able to grasp some closure starting just five days ago.
On Monday, officers from the Benton and Haskell police departments, Saline County Sheriff's Office, the FBI and Arkansas State Crime Lab served a warrant to enter the home of 2902 W. Main St. in Traskwood. The home of Marissa Wright and her father R.B. Wright, but there were no arrests and no sign of information about Joe Lee Richards Jr. reported on that day. However, Marissa Wright was said to be a person of interest by police, and there are reports that she not only attempted suicide, that she wrote a note telling where Joe Lee Richards' body could be found.
Benton Lt. Kevin Russell would not confirm or deny that information.
All the same officers returned to the Traskwood home on Wednesday and soon not only found the body of Joe Lee Richards — later confirmed by state Crime Lab officials — they also found a second corpse. Russell would not confirm or deny whether the bodies were buried in the back yard, instead said they were found in close proximity of the home.
Then on Thursday, around 11 a.m. a Courier reporter was talking with officers in the Benton Police Department parking lot. A sheriff deputy cruiser pulled into the lot and out stepped Marissa Wright, shackled and handcuffed. She did not say a word, nor look at anyone, rather she kept her head down and quietly walked into the police department for reported questioning.
A couple of hours later, though facing a charge of capital murder and likely more charges from the Saline County Sheriff's Office, Wright emerged smiling, joyful and smirkily shouting "It's a beautiful day."