Local News

Jurors Find Ex-Soldier Guilty in Racially-Motivated Murders

Posted May 2, 1997 12:00 a.m. EDT

— After less than a full day of deliberations, jurors Friday found former Fort Bragg soldier Malcolm Wright guilty of two counts of first-degree murder.

Wright, of Louisville, Ky., was accused along with a fellow soldier of killing two black people in Fayetteville in what prosecutors said was a racially-motivated crime.

Wright showed little emotion as the verdict was read.

Superior Court Judge Coy Brewer set a sentencing hearing for Wright to begin at 9 a.m. Monday.

Following the verdict, Brewer denied a motion to rule out the death penalty for Wright.

Wright, whose spider web tattoo and involvement in a neo-Nazi skinhead group was central to the case, could face the death penalty even though co-defendant and trigger man James Burmeister was sentenced to life in prison following his conviction in March.

Prosecutors had claimed Wright and Burmeister were members of a neo-Nazi group at Fort Bragg and that Burmeister set out to kill someone to earn a spider web tattoo like the one on Wright's elbow. In skinhead culture, the tattoo signifies that the wearer has killed or severely injured a black or homosexual.

Police said the two walked up to Michael James, 36, and Jackie Burden, 27, on a rainy night in December 1995 and shot them in the back of the head.

Another former soldier, Randy Meadows Jr., 22, of Mulkeytown, Ill., made a plea arrangement with the state and testified against both Burmeister and Wright.

The killings set off a wave of protests by civil rights advocates and resulted in an Army-wide investigation of extremism in the ranks. The investigation concluded there were few extremists in the military, but Army officials admitted they should have taken more steps to root out skinheads and other white supremacists.

Lawyers for Wright had argued that he was only guilty of being a racist. They said he had no idea that Burmeister planned to kill James and Burden until he pulled the trigger.

Earlier Friday, jurors asked to review a letter Wright apparently wrote to a white supremacists group.

The letter, which prosecutors say was found in Wright's Fort Bragg barracks room, is addressed to, ``My White Racial Comrades.''

Based on the information in the letter, Wright was writing the letter to members of the Church of the Creator, a violent white supremacist group which calls for its followers to ready for a racial holy war.

In addition to requesting the letter, jurors also asked to see a photo of Wright which shows his spider web tattoo and another which shows Wright and other members of his neo-Nazi group giving a Nazi salute.

Juror also reviewed Meadows' statement to police and the plea agreement he reached with prosecutors.

The jury began deliberating late Thursday afternoon. As jurors broke for lunch Friday, the strain of wading through the facts of the case and deciding whether Wright is guilty of first-degree murder or a lesser charge was showing of their faces. Most jurors wore stern expressions and smiled little.

The trial was moved to Wilmington because of pretrial publicity. The prosecution rested its case Wednesday. Defense lawyers didn't call any witnesses.

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