Wright v. Wright

Wright v. Wright was a 1970 case heard by the Arkansas Supreme Court that addressed the basic question of whether a person who murders his or her parent can then inherit from the estate of the victim.

The case of Wright v. Wright had its roots in the September 1953 rifle slaying of Junius Everett Wright and his wife, Macle Cullum Wright, by their son Leslie A. Wright. Accused of a double murder, Wright was convicted for killing his mother and received a life sentence for that crime. Prosecutors opted not to try the seventeen-year-old former high school basketball player for the murder of his father. He was subsequently paroled in 1964, and upon release from prison, he married Lynda Davis. Their son, Glenn Madison Wright, was born after his father’s death in an automobile accident. Leslie Wright’s brother, J. L. Wright, the only surviving child of Everett and Macle Wright, then instituted a suit seeking to secure his exclusive title to the land previously owned by his parents. Lynda Davis Wright and Glenn Madison Wright contested the suit, arguing that they were entitled to a part of the inheritance.

At the initial stage of the litigation, the trial court refused to grant the petition for exclusive title, determining instead that Glenn Madison Wright was entitled to one half-interest in the land subject to the dower interest of his mother. J. L. Wright appealed the decision to the Arkansas Supreme Court, which overturned the lower court’s ruling.

Drawing upon the previous ruling and the standard established in Smith v. Dean (1956), in which the court had noted “it is a familiar principle of law that one who wrongfully kills another is not permitted to share in the other’s estate, to collect insurance on his life or otherwise to profit by the crime,” the judges determined that only brother J. L. Wright was entitled to any part of the inheritance. In an aside that both limited the ruling’s value as a future precedent and highlighted the distinctive factual situation of the case, the court noted that it was not addressing the questions of whether the decision might have been different had Lynda Davis Wright been married to Leslie Wright at the time of the criminal act or whether Glenn Madison Wright had been born at that time. The court noted only that at the time of the parents’ death, when the brothers became eligible to inherit the land, Leslie and J. L. were the only heirs; further, because he was found guilty of the murder, Leslie was not allowed to receive any benefits. Consequently, at the time the estate was settled, there was only one legitimate, qualified heir, J. L. Wright.

Upon its decision, and with the lower court ruling being overturned, the request for an order giving J. L. Wright exclusive title to the land previously owned by his parents was granted.

For additional information:
Wright v. Wright 449 S.W. 2nd 952 (1970). http://opinions.aoc.arkansas.gov/weblink8/0/doc/139032/Page2.aspx (accessed September 22, 2016).

Wright v. Wright 449 S.W. 2nd 952 (1970). http://law.justia.com/cases/arkansas/supreme-court/1970/5-5163-0.html (accessed September 22, 2016).

William H. Pruden III
Ravenscroft School

Last Updated: 09/29/2016

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