What we know about Billy Turner and Sherra Wright's involvement in Lorenzen Wright slaying

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A first-degree murder trial has officially begun for Billy Ray Turner, 51, a man accused of killing University of Memphis and Memphis Grizzlies basketball star, Lorenzen Wright.

Turner has been incarcerated since his arrest in 2017. His trial was delayed for years, in part due to COVID-19 restrictions in Shelby County courts that halted jury trials for an extended period. On March 14, jury selection was underway.

Here's what we know about the case so far:

Who was Lorenzen Wright?

Wright was a McDonald's All-American as a senior at Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis and went on to star for the Memphis Tigers. A 6-foot-11 power forward, Wright was picked seventh overall in the 1996 NBA draft by the Los Angles Clippers and was in the NBA until 2009. He played five seasons for the Grizzlies (2001-06), and also had stints with the Atlanta Hawks, Sacramento Kings and Cleveland Cavaliers.

Read more: Lorenzen Wright's killing and Billy Turner's arrest

The night Lorenzen Wright was fatally shot

On the evening of July 18, 2010, Wright left his ex-wife’s home in Collierville, Tennessee, with drugs and money to conduct an apparent deal, according to a police affidavit, in a vehicle driven by an unidentified person.

Shortly after midnight, he apparently made a 911 call from a field near the TPC Southwind golf course and gunshots could be heard on the call. He was reported missing by his mother on July 22 and on July 28. His badly decomposed body was found near the TPC Southwind golf course. Police determined he was shot in the early hours of July 19 in a secluded, grassy area.

An autopsy report released later that year shows he was shot at least 11 times, including twice in the head and twice in the chest.

Investigation uncovers murder weapon

During the investigation, Lorenzen’s ex-wife, Sherra Wright, told law enforcement that his murder could be drug-related and that her ex-husband had been involved in “major criminal activity” in the past. Their divorce had been finalized just five months before Wright’s body was found.

Authorities received less than two dozen tips in the case by December 2010, and a Crime Stoppers official described the information as insubstantial. However, in November 2017, Memphis police announced a firearm believed to have been used in the killing was found in a lake in Walnut, Mississippi.

The weapon was taken to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations and it was verified as one of the murder weapons, then-Memphis police Major Darren Goods of the Multi-Agency Gang Unit said.

Billy Turner, Sherra Wright Robinson arrested in 2017

Billy Ray Turner was Sherra Wright's yardman. In 2017, he was indicted and charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Wright. Turner was held on a $1 million bond. According to Shelby County court records, Turner has an arrest record dating to 1992.

Sherra Wright, 50, received — and rapidly spent — $1 million from a life insurance policy that was to benefit her ex-husband's children in the event of Lorenzen’s death.

Related: Lorenzen Wright's ex-wife Sherra Wright arrested in California, charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy

More: After conviction in Lorenzen Wright murder, Sherra Wright says 'everything is not what it seems'

Sherra Wright was indicted on charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder, then-Memphis police Director Michael Rallings said. Federal marshals arrested her in 2017 in California and she was being held in Riverside County.

Jimmie Martin named as an alleged conspirator in 2018

In 2018, prosecutors unveiled Martin as the "unindicted co-conspirator.” He is a wannabe rapper and convicted killer, and also Sherra Wright's cousin. The prosecutor also identified Martin as the tipster who directed authorities to a gun — the weapon used to kill Lorenzen — and to the spot where it was in a Mississippi lake.

Who is Jimmie Martin?: Alleged Lorenzen Wright conspirator has killed before

“Jimmie Martin stated that in the days before the murder of Lorenzen Wright, he was present at a meeting at which Sherra Wright, Billy Turner and he planned the murder of Lorenzen Wright,'' Hagerman said.

The prosecutor reported that Martin said he, Sherra Wright and Turner had conspired to kill Lorenzen in Memphis.

Hagerman also said a witness named Claudia Robinson was present at a meeting at which the three conspirators plotted to kill the 6-foot-11 athlete.

The prosecutor also said an initial attempt to kill Lorenzen Wright in Atlanta had failed when conspirators found an unknown man sleeping on a couch in a home they were targeting and broke off the attack.

Lorenzen Wright case: Prosecutor reveals name of alleged third conspirator

The prosecutor also pointed to a motive: according to a witness, Turner and Sherra Wright were in a sexual relationship. The prosecutor alleged the conspirators killed Lorenzen Wright for insurance money.

Records show Martin stood trial in 2009 in Shelby County for the murder of his girlfriend, Martha Jean Bownes. The jury acquitted Martin of a first-degree murder charge but deadlocked on a lesser charge of second-degree murder. Though Martin later was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison following his retrial in 2012, he was out on bond for the three years between his trials.

Sherra Wright Robinson pleads guilty

Sherra Wright did not have a criminal history, but in July 2019 she pleaded guilty to orchestrating Lorenzen’s murder during an unscheduled court hearing. She pleaded guilty for the sake of her children, Sherra told The Commercial Appeal.

During a phone interview conducted by ESPN’s Lisa Salters for the network's latest "E60" special, aired in 2021, Sherra Wright said “absolutely not” when asked if she killed Lorenzen or played any part in his murder.

When asked by Salters who killed him, she points the finger at Martin.

Opening statements made during Billy Ray Turner trial

In the opening statements of Turner's first-degree murder trial, both the prosecuting and defense attorneys asked the jurors a question: What does it take to kill a man?

Hagerman painted a picture of Turner as a key participant in the plan to lure Wright from his Atlanta home. Turner, he said, was Sherra Wright’s friend and secret love interest, which left him vulnerable to Sherra Wright’s manipulation.

Defendant Billy Ray Turner makes an appearance in Judge Lee Coffee's courtroom Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019. Turner is charged with killing NBA star Lorenzen Wright.
Defendant Billy Ray Turner makes an appearance in Judge Lee Coffee's courtroom Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019. Turner is charged with killing NBA star Lorenzen Wright.

Billy Turner trial: In opening statements of Billy Ray Turner's trial, the defense points to already imprisoned man as actual killer

While Hagerman argued that Sherra Wright did not have a criminal history, she did have jealousy, greed and "$2 million reasons."

Sherra Wright, Hagerman said, had paid for Martin's bond and his attorney fees as he moved through his trial for murdering his girlfriend (Martin is currently serving a sentence on this conviction). Together, Martin and Turner completed the triad of Wright's killers.

Turner's defense attorney, John Perry, also opened with his own version of the same question.

"What does it take to kill a pillar of this community?" Perry asked. "What would it take to kill a seven-foot basketball star?"

The answer to those questions, Perry said, are found in examining motives and evidence that finger Sherra Wright and Martin as Wright's killers, not Turner.

It was Martin, Perry said, who changed facts frequently when talking to investigators. It was Martin who described Turner as Sherra Wright's "secret love interest."

The kind of person needed to orchestrate Wright's murder, Perry said, is the same person who is sitting in prison right now for killing their intimate partner — Martin. The same kind of person who would ask Turner to borrow his car, and in turn set him up.

"It takes a punk's heart, that's sitting in prison right now, for taking a firearm and shooting his fiancé, that he lives with, to death," Perry said.

What’s next for the case

Should Turner be acquitted on his first-degree murder charge, he will remain in prison for his 2019 conviction. Prosecutors believe Turner's trial will take at least a week and those selected for the jury will be sequestered.

Sherra Wright will continue to serve her 30-year sentence after withdrawing her petition for a post-conviction sentence reduction at the Debra K. Johnson Rehabilitation Center. She did not elaborate on her reasoning in brief remarks to the court but instead stated she understood the full legal implications of withdrawing the petition. She will be eligible for parole in 2026 after serving a minimum of 30% of her sentence.

Martin is currently serving a 20-year sentence for an unrelated second-degree murder charge at Hardeman County Correctional Facility.

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Who killed NBA star Lorenzen Wright? What we know