Friday, October 2, 2009

Greg Wright - Murdered for Seventy Dollars

The following was taken from columns originally published in Shoalanda Speaks September 22-25, 2009.

How do you measure success? Obviously, we each have different bench marks in our appraisals of others, as well as ourselves. If we count success in friendship, then James Gregory Wright was a successful man. If we count success in dollars and cents, Greg Wright was lacking, and this lack led to his murder.

Wright was a 42 year-old roofer who lived by himself in the Greenhill community of Lauderdale County, just a mile south of the Tennessee State line. Due to the economy, Wright had been out of work for some time, forcing him to live frugally in his manufactured home. At some point in 2006, Wright purchased a set of used tires from Greg Leon Nard for $70.00. Those who knew Wright say that he would have paid Nard when he went back to work, but Nard became upset over the debt.

On the night of January 27, 2007, Greg Nard, 25, his father William David Nard, 47, and an acquaintance, Norman Ernest Widdowson, 42, were out joyriding. All three were residents of Iron City, Tennessee, but Widdownson had moved from Maryland only three months before. After a night of shooting pool and drinking at the Nard residence, the father and son suggested to Widdownson that he accompany them on a drive; they wound up at Greg Wright's residence on Lauderdale County Road 130. The three men were the last to see James Gregory Wright alive.

No one had seen Greg Wright since the previous Saturday; nor had anyone seen his vehicle moved from the driveway of his manufactured home in the Greenhill community. It was 7:30 the next Wednesday when a neighbor decided to check on the unemployed roofer. Reaching the steps to the wooden deck, the neighbor discovered a dried brown substance on the planks. The same substance dotted the flooring of the deck, and upon reaching the storm door in the mid-winter darkness, the neighbor's fears were confirmed as he once more saw the substance, now dark red against the glass and streaked across the storm door.

Inside, the body of James Gregory Wright lay on the living room floor, face down, rivulets of dried blood surrounding it. Lauderdale deputies arrived minutes after receiving the call, initially determining that Wright had died from blunt force trauma to the head. Friends and family who arrived at the scene could offer no insight into Wright's death; his mother and stepfather terming him universally liked.

Fortuitously, investigators didn't have to wait for blood and other trace evidence to be evaluated; Greg Leon Nard had dropped his cell phone during the struggle. When questioned by investigators in Iron City, Nard quickly offered his father William and companion Ernest Widdowson as alibis. Upon further questioning, Widdowson confessed to accompanying the father and son to Wright's Alabama home to collect the $70.00 debt, but stated he remained in the vehicle during the crime and couldn't be sure which Nard had inflicted the wounds that claimed Wright's life.

Now, sure of their case, but unsure of just who did kill Greg Wright, deputies then questioned the Nards separately. Each accused the other.

Lauderdale County investigators were faced with three conflicting statements in the murder of Greg Wright. Father William Nard accused his son Greg of the crime, while the son accused his father. Accomplice Ernest Widdowson maintained total innocence in the act itself, while both men averred their friend assisted in the murder and robbery. Lauderdale County prosecutors prepared their cases against the men, initially considering charging all three with capital murder. Denying bail to the trio, the county housed Widdowson in the Lauderdale County Detention Center, while placing William Nard in the Franklin County jail and Greg Nard in nearby Walker County.

With court dockets in Lauderdale County backed up, the wheels of justice turned slowly in the Wright case. In the ensuing months, forensics proved all three men were indeed inside Greg Wright's rural manufactured home; the blood found on the storm door and porch of Wright's home proved to be that of William Nard, who was injured in the struggle. Court appointed attorneys filed various motions, but in the end, all were denied, and prospects of the death penalty faced the three Iron City residents who had crossed the state line to commit the crime.

In an attempt to avoid death by lethal injection, Greg Leon Nard admitted to killing Wright and pleaded to the charge of capital murder with the promise of a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. William Nard, who had assisted his son in the actual murder, pleaded guilty to felony murder and robbery. He was sentenced to two consecutive terms of life with the possibility of parole. Such consecutive terms are highly unusual and are perhaps a de facto sentence of life without for the elder Nard who is almost 50 years old.

Ernest Widdowson pleaded guilty to felony murder, but was found to be innocent of charges of robbery in the theft of cash and a small stash of marijuana. Widdowson's testimony had backed up William Nard's in implicating Greg Nard as the actual assailant. Widdownson also freely admitted to assisting in holding Wright against his will, as well as not reporting the crime after returning to Iron City. For his part in the murder, on September 21, 2009, Judge Mike Jones sentenced Widdowson to twenty years in prison.

In all probability, Greg Wright would be alive if the Nards had not decided to spend their night drinking. In all probability, Ernest Widdowson would not have joined the Nards in their quest for the small sum of $70.00 if he too had not let alcohol cloud his judgment. Statistics show at least 80% of all violent crimes are fueled by the abuse of alcohol and other drugs. In this case, it cost Greg Wright his life.