by ZACH KAYSER
Just days before his case was to go to trial, a Dakota man signed a plea agreement on Tuesday admitting to the murder of his wife last year.
Joseph Bailly Wright, 79, was arrested for killing his wife, Klara, July 10, 2020. Authorities charged him with second-degree murder with intent and held him on a $1 million bail. His case was scheduled to go to trial beginning April 19. However, a plea bargain made between Winona County prosecutors, including County Attorney Karin Sonneman, and Wright’s public defender, Graham Henry, got his potential sentence reduced to a cap of 10 years and eight months in prison with credit for time already served.
Wright's sentencing hearing is due to take place on July 21.
A former television repairman with a high school education, Wright lived with Klara at their apartment on County Road 12 in Dakota. Klara had dementia related to Alzheimer’s disease, and on July 10 Wright called Winona County Emergency Dispatch to say he had killed her. According to the complaint, Wright told police he had tried to kill himself by slitting his wrist, and police found a suicide note with “statements indicating the writer could not take it anymore, the writer could not watch her suffer, and the writer tried to kill himself.”
Despite having told authorities he killed his wife, Wright initially disputed the second-degree murder charge, pleading not guilty in October.
Prosecutors alleged Wright stabbed Klara twice in the abdomen as well as struck her head with a kitchen implement. They also alleged that Klara may have attempted to fight off Wright, based on defensive wounds on her hand.
Additionally, authorities claimed to have uncovered evidence of an eight-year-long extramarital affair between Wright and another woman. Prosecutors alleged Wright emailed the woman the same day as the murder.
“The defendant's claims of loving the victim so much that he had to put her out of her misery are placed in proper context when considering the defendant's infidelity in his marriage,” Sonneman wrote to the court.
While it still appeared the case was going to trial, presiding judge Mary Leahy banned attorneys from using the word “mercy” and the defense from using the phrase “heat of passion.” This was to prevent the idea of a “mercy killing” from influencing the trial, because there is no mercy killing defense in Minnesota law.
“Referring to the word ‘mercy’ is potentially highly prejudicial, so much so that it could very likely cause a mistrial,” Leahy wrote in an April 8 order.
As late as last month, the state had been arguing for an aggravated or stiffer-than-normal sentence, based on their assertion that the crime was particularly cruel, and that it was carried out because of the victim’s disability.