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UPDATED: Appeals court reverses conviction of former Tacoma school principal

Post by Stacey Mulick / The News Tribune on Sep. 1, 2009 at 11:11 am with 29 Comments »
September 1, 2009 2:04 pm
Harold Wright Jr.
Harold Wright Jr.

A state Appeals Court has overturned the conviction of a former Tacoma middle school principal who was found guilty of third-degree rape in 2007.

The Court of Appeals found the trial court erred in giving jurors the instruction on third-degree rape during the trial of Harold Wright Jr., now 38. The conviction of his co-defendant, Richy Carter, also was reversed.

“Accordingly, we reverse and remand for a new trial,” the opinion, published this morning, states. The opinion was written by Judge David H. Armstrong. Judge Marywave Van Deren concurred. Judge J. Robin Hunt filed a dissent.

Wright’s attorney, Barbara Corey, said they were happy with the court’s decision.

“This is great news,” she said this morning.

Deputy prosecutor Kit Proctor said her office will appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. Prosecutors have 30 days to file a petition for appeal.

A jury convicted Wright and Richy Carter of third-degree rape in July 2007. Wright was the principal of Baker Middle School when he was placed on administrative leave in February 2007, after prosecutors filed criminal charges against him.

Both men were initially charged with second-degree rape.

Prosecutors alleged he and Carter sexually assaulted a woman at the town house of a friend after meeting her and two other friends in a Puyallup bar in 2004. The woman, then 19, knew Wright from Spanaway Lake High School, where he was an assistant principal when she was a student.

During the trial, the woman testified she was held down and raped by at least one man – possibly two – in the town house. She could not remember specific details but was adamant that she did not have consensual sex. She also said Wright was in the room at the time.

Investigators found Carter’s DNA in the woman during a sexual assault exam the day after the attack. Forensic technicians also found DNA consistent with Wright’s on the woman’s body.

During the trial, Wright testified that he had no sexual contact with the woman. He said she had danced close to him as she wore only jeans and a bra. Carter claimed he had consensual sex with the woman.

Wright resigned after his conviction. He was sentenced to serve six months in jail but the sentence was stayed while Wright appealed.

In the appeal, Wright argued the trial court erred in giving the jurors the option of considering third-degree rape. He also argued the evidence didn’t support the conviction. (Wright also raised issues of prosecutorial misconduct but the Appeals Court did not address those issues.)

The appeals court found the victim’s testimony only supported a conviction of second-degree rape and Wright’s evidence only supports that no rape occurred.

(To prove second-degree rape, prosecutors must convince jurors the sex was by forcible compulsion. Third-degree rape requires the state to prove the defendant had sexual intercourse with a person who was not the spouse, who did not consent to the act and who clearly expressed lack of consent by words or conduct.)

The judges found “the trial court erred by giving the third degree instruction because neither (the victim’s) testimony nor the defendant’s evidence supports an unforced, nonconsensual rape,” the opinion states.

In the dissent opinion, Judge Hunt wrote the evidence supported giving the third-degree rape instruction.

“In spite of the majority’s characterization to the contrary, I agree with the State that ‘the jury could find lack of consent without force’ based on the record before us,” the dissent opinion states.

In the Court of Appeals decision, the judges remanded the case back to Pierce County Superior Court for retrial on the second-degree rape charges.

A year after the conviction, the NAACP asked the U.S. Department of Justice to review the case, alleging racial bias. Wright is black; the woman is white.

Leave a comment Comments → 29
  1. love2blog says:

    This is the best day ever. This day has been long time coming. Congratulations Harold Wright Jr. Now that justice is prevailing. Good Luck to the family. Best wishes always….

  2. MasterAtArms says:

    At least he is going back to trial, and is not getting away with this terrible crime. One day these two men will be sitting in prison cells, as registered sex offenders. Until that day, I have faith in the CJ system.

  3. good-luck to Mr wright & his family, he made a huge difference at baker middle school.
    as a former person who went to that school it was out of control back in the 70s.

  4. love2blog says:

    “The Truth, You want me to tell you the truth?” “You cant handle the truth.!!!” Great white it sounds like you might be the racist here. It saddens me that our heritage needs organizations like the NAACP to stand up for citizens. It saddens me that we cant just look at evidence and proove or disproove based on clear evidence. What about other organizations that stand up for the white man. I will stay on here and continue to blog on the behalf of the Wright family as I know without a shadow of a doubt this man is innocent!!!! It will be the last breathe I take to be on this mans side I beleive in him and I have believed in him from the very beginnig. The truth has prevailed today. It is kinda ironic this being the day before Tacoma goes back to school. Again I will say God Bless the Wrtight family and hope that the much needed relief is in sight.

  5. figures says:

    patty46: What does his job have to do with whether or not he raped someone? If he was a janitor at the school would you still wish him ‘good-luck’?

  6. Concernedfather says:

    NAACP = National Association Acquitting Criminal Parasites

  7. RFTW001 says:

    I know that Mr. Wright would welcome a new trial. They could not convict him on the original charge and had to allow a LESSER charge in to get an conviction in the first place. What could they proove now, that they could not then. A new trial would uncover the police investigation(police officer interviewing all witnesses together, allowing them to listen each others recorded statement before giving their own). The same detective who was disciplined for lying at a previous trial where he testified he interviewed a witness, when that witness was deceased. Then the prosecutor called the complaining witness, and informed her that she had made inconsistent statements.Then they allowed this instruction that should not have been allowed. There is so much more, and again I ask if the TNT would do an investigation and see how this was a miscarriage of justice. Thank God, we have a judicial system that checks and balances one another.

  8. RFTW001 says:

    Father, people like you want to make it a race issue. But, the NAACP only read the evidence and came to their conclusion. You say he get away on an error, buy the ERROR is the only reason why he was convicted. They did not convict on the higher charge. They did not believe he committed the higher crime. So without the LESSER crime he would have been aquitted. It’s fascinating how the public gets mis-informed. The error that happend to Mr. Wright has impacted his life in a negative way, I was in court everyday and the jury just disbelieved the evidence, so the prosecutors pulled a fast one, and it was the COURTS who reversed this Not the NAACP. So, just look at all the witness statements and how many times she lied. I know that Barbara Corey, and Harold’s other legal advisors will jump at the opportunity to tell his side in court, if it were to be retried.

  9. plmbrdude says:

    If the rubber don’t fit you must acquit!

  10. RFTW001 says:

    It’s interesting that many who were not Mr. Wright’s supporters believed in the system when he was convicted on an error. Now the same system overturns his conviction and its about how the system failed. But, i hope that people can see how the prosecutors and police mishandled this case, and that our new DA makes it right. Lets see if we have learned from the mistakes in the case and Pierce County and Mr. Wright can move forward.

  11. danhillman says:

    I was at most of this trial. What I don’t understand about this appeal is that the jury was instructed they could convict based on a lessor crime, but did not. However, this causes a “reversal on appeal”?

    Makes no sense to me.
    PS – based on what I heard in the courtroom, if I were on the jury, I would have convicted these guys. DNA does not lie. Humans lie.

  12. wakeupnow says:

    Congrats to Harold and the Wright family!! Yes, he was stupid for putting himself in that situation and God only know what happened at that house but I could never understand how anyone could be charged and convicted for rape when there were no witnesses and poor girl was too drunk to remember. One thing I never found out was what was the DNA (saliva, seaman)?

  13. RFTW001 says:

    I was in court, and the forensic scientist determined it was not semen. It was skin cells or something else found on her body not her private areas. It made no sense. They should have never allowed the lesser degree instruction. If they did not, he would have never been convicted. They did all they could to convict this man, but could not. Look out for a lawsuit, but knowing Harold he would not file. But I hope so, because this reeks of a scandle.

  14. love2blog says:

    You are right RFTW. this reeks very much of scandel. No one wants to talk about a 19 at the time year old girl in the bar. No one wants to talk about how she told her stories with her friends by her side. Everyone wants to talk about how the “racist NAACP” got involved and how harold was the black man trying to shove his skin color in our faces. Again I am disgraced that our nation is racist. That again we can not look at the evidence alone to convict a man of a crime. This was never a case of harold raping a young lady which he would never do it was a case of a rich principal. It was a case of the prosecution wanting to tear up someone as they thought he had money. While myself and others blog about his inncence others will try to proove otherwise but I am right with RFTW when he says that everyone was on here talking about a just system when he was convicted. It is a just system now that is what I say. I have heard the evidence and I know now who is the victim. The person who lost his job and his life for the last four years…

  15. wakeupnow says:

    RFTW: Thanks for the feedback and yet again re-affirmation as to why this was all BS

  16. danhillman says:

    To Wakeupnow –

    The DNA from Principal Harold was saliva, and it was taken from the girls breasts. The judge did not allow the jury to hear these facts since when the DNA was originally ordered, it was done to determine whose DNA it was, not what it was. This was a mistake by the prosecutors I believe. The prosecutors wanted the crime lab to testify as to the type of DNA which Harold left behind, however, since this info was not originally requested, The Judge ruled no.

    PS – Harold swore before God that he has dry skin and it must have been his dry skin cells on which the DNA was based. However, his attorneys knew he got his lips inside her bra. DNA does not lie.

    Time to wake up, wakeupnow

  17. cclngthr says:

    If Wright was truely guilty, the judge who sentenced him would have ordered him to remain in jail pending appeal, but apparently, she noticed enough flaws in the trial that jailing Wright likely would have caused more problems. It is highly unusual for a judge in a case like this not to commit a person to custody pending any appeal. Usually, defendants are ordered to jail to serve their sentence.

  18. danhillman says:

    To RFT001:

    As I recall, the crime lab specialist was never allowed to testify about the type of DNA, only it’s location. There was a special ruling on this matter away from the jury.

    No one is after Harold because he has money – Harold got himself into something by hanging out with a guy who has a pattern of forcing himself on women. Per the testimony, Harold was in the room with two other guys and one girl. Two of the guys left DNA, Harold was one of them. The other left semen inside her, Harold left saliva on her chest – she testified she was held down by more than one guy. She testified she could feel one of the guys holding her down was wearing a leather coat. Harold testified he wore a leather coat. The car salesman guy has been accused of this before by at least one other women. If the police were after someone, it was the car salesman. In my opinion, we should be thankful of this.

    Per the testimony, he was the one who had sex, she believes Harold was there it was alleged, and assisted. Harold never explained how his saliva got on her. A new trial will give him a chance to tell a new story.
    I agree with others, Harold does seem like the type of guy who would initiate a rape, but per the trial, he was there, did not intercede on her behalf and has yet to explain how his lips met her chest. And he is a school principal no less.

    RTW001 – you should have been in the courtroom – then you wouldn’t think the world is out to get people. 12 jurors listened to the entire trial and convicted both these guys. I listened too and I agreed with them.

    It will be interesting to see if in a new trial all the information will come out.

  19. knowumsayin says:

    It saddens me that i knew it was a white woman he raped as soon as I saw his picture. Oh yeah, he did it..guilt is written all over his face..and besides his DNA was all over the victim. BTW where is the NAAWP in all this..?

  20. love2blog says:

    knowumsayin you have it all wrong. RFTW already bloggged that he was there and present during the trial. You need to get your facts straight. besides NAAWP what is that? I know what you are trying to get at but really. Why dont you look at the case in its entirety and then come up with a better conclusion then just because he looks guilty he is. I dont think he looks guilty at all. I think he looks as if he cant believe he is really going through all this mess.

  21. StarGirl123 says:

    The DNA was on her because she was dancing around in her bra. You don’t think sweat or anything that WASN’T semen could get on her when she’s dancing around without her shirt on?

    He shouldn’t have been there, he definitely shouldn’t have been hanging out with that scumbag Carter, but that doesn’t mean he’s a rapist. He made poor choices that night but rape wasn’t one of them.

  22. RFTW001 says:

    Dan, unture, how do you know what DNA was present? The only thing that they did discover is that it was not semen. If it were saliva could have gotten there by here dancing up next to him? There is reasonable doubt, and BTW why didn’t the prosecutors find out what DNA it was the have the financial means to determine it. They wanted it to be ambiguous, and it did not work for them. Also, Danny boy, how did u know it came from her breast, the nurse testified that she swabbed her whole entire chest, and again I thought the prosecutors alleged that he was holding her down and that is how his DNA got on her. Again, you cant place facts that were not present. Do you think if the DNA compromised Harold ( etc semen) they would not had brought that issue forward? You need to wake up.

  23. RFTW001 says:

    Dan, I was there, and the only person testified that he had a leather jacket on was the alleged victim. The prosecutors nevver asked any of the witnesses if he had a leather jacket on, and Harold testified that he did not have a leather jacket on. And no, they did not rule that the prosecutor could not ask what type of DNA it was, what the prosecutor wanted to do is retest the DNAto determine if it was skin cells or not. The judged ruled that he can not during trial bring additional evidence in which the defense attorneys did not have any time to review. You see misinformation like that is why and how this thing gets out of hand.

  24. RFTW001 says:

    knowumsaying, first of all the TNT should be ashamed of themselves for using that picture. They were purposeful in trying to find one that was unflattering as that, with that being said, you comments is one of the reasons why the NAACP is involved. You knew it was a white girl by the way he looked. Still assuming that a black man is looking to rape white women, What an ignorant statement. Also, 12 jurors did not agree with the 2 nd degree rape instruction, thus they asked for the third degree which was improper.

  25. RFTW001 says:

    Dan- and another thing about your responseis- you too described a forcible rape scenario. The law clearly states when the testimony supports forcible compulsion and the other side’s argument is consent, then its one or the other. You can not have it both ways. You can not allow a compromising verdict. And, what is so crazy about the prosecution trying to pull this fast one. Is that the prosecutors are the reason why this law was enacted. Read the case law that was cited to overthrow the conviction. State v Charles. Charles asked for 3rd degree and the state objected cause the testimony was force. Charles was convicted of 2nd degree rape and the appeal court overthrew it saying that he should be allowed to consider 3 degree rape, then the Supreme Court overthrew the appeal court, ruling it is either force or not,a nd upheld the 2nd degree rape conviction and now, they are trying to get it both ways??? Please share all of the facts Dan. Not just how u feel.

  26. Ronny42 says:

    RFT you make great points. What I find also interesting about this case is that there was a third person charged that proves the misconduct of the prosecutor. This person was the owner of the house and no one ever put him in the room where the alleged rape took place and no DNA ever linked him. He was charged with rape 2 on 7/6/06. After trial started Lori finally had to admit that she did not have evidence against this person and filed a dismissal motion on 6/18/07. If that doesn’t prove lack of commitment to the interest of justice nothing will. If anybody disagrees with that I’d be happy to tell everyone of their family members and friends they’re a rapist and then after about a year say “Just Kidding!”

  27. RFTW001 says:


    Great point, and this is exactly what is happening to Harold then and now. The media and the prosecution using some of the information to stir up issues that have nothing to do with the facts. The prosecution wants to continue lingering this issue on, because then they do not have admit they had no evidence to charge this case. That is why this case seems to be only about Harold, not any other of the people involved-It’s not news worthy otherwise. Because the conversations that the media and others on the blog want to discuss is what is a prinicpal doing at an after hours party. But if you look at the facts, she was not his student(he had no dealings in school with her), she was in a bar, which requires one to be at least 21. Another fact is that Harold began teaching when he was 22. He has students who are now 34, and he is 38, if he had no dealings with her in schoo, how would he remember the age of all the students that attended the school where he onced worked. Sensationlizing issues that are not grounded in facts help to keep this case continuing, when in fact it should have never reached this level. This case is being tried in the media. Please continue to look at all the evidence Ronny-as you obviously did to know abt how prosecutors dropped charges on that 3rd individual.

  28. Second, State v. Charles was inappropriately applied (read the dissent). In that case there was no evidence to support the rape 3 lesser. THAT IS CLEARLY NOT THE CASE HERE! Remember, 12 jurors found that the facts supported rape 3 here! What do you think they just said, “well we cannot unanimously agree to rape 2, so let’s find him guilty of rape 3″????? Do you really think this court of appeals decision is going to be upheld by the WA supreme court? The court of appeals had to find that the trial court abused her discretion, that means that NO REASONABLE JUDGE could have acted as she did! OH YEAH, there was a dissent wasn’t there! That means that even the judges that heard the appeal could not agree that what the trial judge did was error! Sounds like it won’t meet that standard, does it?

  29. RFTW001 says:

    Sirm J,

    The issue is not that the jury found him guilty;the issue is that the jury should have never been able to consider the lesser degree instruction. It is clear, read all of the TNT coverage and the opinion. The woman claimed that she was forced to have sex. If that is the case, how does she get the lesser degreee instruction. It’s the law. If the jury was not given this instruction to consider, then Harold would have been acquitted. It is the law.

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