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Prosecution mistakes let man who could have faced 100-plus year sentence walk free

Brian Wright walked out of federal court a free man again Thursday after a judge sentenced him to the 21 months he already spent in custody following his arrest in several 2014 jewelry store robberies.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon first ordered Wright freed in April after he pleaded guilty to an illegal gun possession charge and prosecutors agreed to drop all robbery counts against him.

The rare plea deal was struck under pressure from Gordon, who criticized prosecutors for failing to turn over key evidence to Wright until the morning of his trial.

Prosecutors abandoned the trial and agreed to the deal even though they believed Wright, a 31-year-old felon, was the mastermind of the armed robberies, and even though most of the $1.1 million in stolen jewelry was still missing.

Had Wright gone to trial and been convicted, he could have faced 100 years in prison. Minutes before his sentencing Thursday, his former federal cellmate, Dominique Wells, was sentenced in another courtroom to more than 112 years in federal prison in connection with unrelated armed robberies of local businesses in 2014.

Before Gordon sentenced Wright, he allowed the mother of a co-defendant who cooperated against him to go on a 20-minute tirade. She accused Wright of being a dangerous predator and career criminal who had coerced her bipolar son into joining the jewelry story robbery conspiracy.

Several weeks after his release in April, Wright went on YouTube, proclaiming his innocence and blasting the government’s handling of his case.

Gordon told Wright on Thursday that he saw the YouTube video and Wright was wrong.

“That’s not why you got that plea deal,” Gordon said.

The judge could have sentenced Wright to 10 years in prison on the firearms charge but opted instead to abide by the plea agreement, which called for no additional time in custody.

Gordon, however, ordered Wright to serve three years of supervised release, which was not part of the deal.

He urged Wright, whom he called a “smart person,” to straighten out his life and put his talents to work as a law-abiding citizen.

“You’re too old for this kind of nonsense,” Gordon said.

Wright apologized to Gordon and said he planned to live in Southern California and go into business with his cousin there.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Cristina Silva, the new prosecutor on the case, did not offer a sentencing recommendation other than what was laid out in the plea agreement. But Donna Cole, the mother of co-defendant Philbert Cole, had plenty to say.

“Brian Wright has forfeited his right to live among us,” an emotional Cole said. “I will never forgive you for what you did to my beautiful son.”

Cole, a university professor, said Wright preyed upon her son’s mental illness and vulnerabilities to persuade him to participate in the jewelry store robberies.

Her son pleaded guilty more than a year ago and cooperated with the government. He faces roughly 15 years in prison at his Aug. 17 sentencing, but his lawyer is looking for a better deal in light of Wright’s plea agreement.

In a four-page letter to Gordon filed late Wednesday, Donna Cole said it has been painful to watch the government’s case against Wright “fall apart” because of mistakes by the original prosecutors.

“But when those mistakes allow a career criminal to walk (among) us,” she wrote, “we all get victimized more than we already were by Brian Wright.”

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135. Follow @JGermanRJ on Twitter.

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