Brian Wright, the alleged mastermind of a series of jewelry store heists who walked free because of mistakes by federal prosecutors, declared Tuesday that the government had manufactured evidence against him.
“I’m innocent,” he told jurors, acting as his own attorney at the start of his second trial on conspiracy and robbery charges. “This case is so ridiculous.”
After Wright walked free in 2016, prosecutors alleged that he went back to his old ways and organized two more holdups within months.
Wright fumbled slightly during his opening statement Tuesday after prosecutors objected to the style of his argument before saying that the FBI agent who investigated him “has a vendetta against me.”
He paused and asked, “I can’t tell none of the truth?” before accusing the prosecutor of lying in her opening statement.
In 2016, the government had failed to turn over key evidence to Wright until the morning of his trial in a series of 2014 heists.
On Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexandra Michael told jurors that Wright had planned two more jewelry store armed robberies from January 2017.
“He thought he could commit these robberies and still keep his hands clean,” Michael said. “But he thought wrong.”
The prosecutor pointed to fingerprint evidence and cellphone records that tied Wright to a holdup at Jared The Galleria of Jewelry on North Rainbow Boulevard and at MJ Christensen Diamonds on West Charleston Boulevard. Both times, he had communicated with the gunmen moments before, while he kept an eye out for authorities, the prosecutor said.
Others in the case have pleaded guilty and are expected to testify against Wright during the trial scheduled to carry into next week. Wright argued that their cooperation was part of the conspiracy against him.
“All the people that committed these robberies have been either threatened by the government with life in prison,” he said, or named him in order to receive a reduced sentence. “Some of these people I don’t even know.”
“That’s the evidence you’re going to see during the trial,” he said. “Manufactured evidence.”
More than $1.1 million in merchandise was stolen from Jared’s and two other jewelry stores in a 2014 robbery spree prosecutors had tied to Wright. Jared’s lost $319,322 in jewelry in 2014 and another $891,493 in the 2017 robbery.
Wright’s method of operation in 2014, according to prosecutors, matched his actions in 2017: He recruited gunmen and getaway drivers to carry out the robberies. He usually would be in the area and would collect the stolen goods, prosecutors alleged.
Wright could have faced about 100 years in prison had he been convicted in the 2014 robberies, but on the first day of his trial in April 2016, U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon chastised prosecutors for not sharing their lists of witnesses and exhibits with Wright until that morning. Prosecutors struck a deal with Wright, allowing him to plead guilty to a gun possession charge in return for dismissal of the more serious robbery counts.