Defense counsel often discuss demeanor in court with our clients. One thing that we all agree on is that it is a uniquely bad idea to smirk during victim statements, particularly in a murder case. That is one lesson Danta Wright, 17, did not learn and it almost cost him the plea bargain negotiated with prosecutors.
Wright upset many in the Washtenaw County courtroom as his murder victim’s family recounted their pain and loss. Wright admitted that he and two other friends shot and killed Jordan Klee, 18, in the course of a robbery. His accomplices, Delreno Gracey and Jermarius Ellison, have yet to be sentenced.
His demeanor led 22nd Circuit Court Judge David Swartz to reconsider the deal:
“Watching you sit there, smile, laugh, shake your head like this was no big deal— I’m very tempted to just say, ‘I’m not going to accept this sentencing agreement and we’ll go to trial’ and if you’re convicted of felony murder, you’ll go to prison for the rest of your life. That means you’ll die there. That’s what I’m tempted to do.”
Fortunately for Wright, the court decided to go forward with the deal rather than order a trial. He was sentenced to 23-50 years in prison for Klee’s murder.