Man not guilty by reason of insanity in death, decapitation of disabled son

Jori Lirette (Source: Thibodaux Police Department)
Jori Lirette (Source: Thibodaux Police Department)
Jeremiah Wright
Jeremiah Wright

THIBODAUX, LA (WAFB) - A man who admitted to killing and decapitating his disabled 7-year-old son was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Jeremiah Wright, 32, of Thibodaux will remain in the state's mental hospital located in Jackson for an indefinite amount of time. District Judge John LeBlanc made the ruling on Friday, Feb. 14.

"He will stay there as long as his mental status proves he is a danger to himself or to others," Kerry Cuccia, Wright's attorney, explained. "If there ever becomes a point where the hospital staff feels he's not a danger to himself or others, the staff can go to the court and ask a judge to change that status.

"This was a case, because of its shocking nature, that would be easy for someone to let emotions control decision making," he added. "[District Attorney Cam Morvant] and [Judge LeBlanc] did not let that happen. They looked at the evidence objectively and like the judge said, he made the only decision that could have been made. They deserve a great deal of credit and we should all recognize how very professional they were handling this case."

Today's decision was the result of three-years of extensive analysis and testing.

"The case is almost 3 years old and there has been a lot of litigation over his mental status," Cuccia said. "Every doctor, except for one or two who were proven to be unreliable, have agreed that [Wright] has a mental disorder. No one disagreed."

Wright was charged with first degree murder of his son, Jori Lirette, a second grader who suffered from Cerebral Palsy. The boy's severed head was found in the driveway of his home on August 14, 2011. The Thibodaux Police Department investigated the case.

"We respect the process of due process," David Melancon, Thibodaux Police Department, said when asked about today's ruling. "The Thibodaux Police Department conducted an investigation and then passed it on to the next step of our judicial process."

At the time of his arrest, Wright told police he believed his son was a CPR dummy. Experts revealed that Wright's actual belief was slightly different.

"What Wright told police the day he was arrested and what he has maintained throughout is that he believed his son was a CPR dummy," Cuccia explained. "Robot is a better description of what he believes because he believes that his son walked and talked like a real person, but it was not really his son."

Dr. George Seiden, expert for the defense, diagnosed Wright's disorder as Capgras syndrome, which is a disorder in which a person believes that a loved one has been replaced by an imposter.

"It is a major mental illness," Cuccia said. "It's a dangerous syndrome because the person often attacks that person who they believe to be an imposter."

Although Dr. Seiden has maintained this as the diagnosis from the beginning, Wright's condition deviates from typical cases.

"At that time he was not aware of anyone suffering from that syndrome who believed the imposter was an inanimate object," Cuccia said. "After doing some research, he found out that there are instances of that."

All of that testimony was provided today in Judge LeBlanc's courtroom, without a jury present.

"This was possible because of Louisiana code of criminal procedure," Cuccia said. "When the District Attorney agrees, this allows the judge to make a decision. Both sides agreed he was legally insane at the time of the incident. This provision was put in place when both sides agree to save the cost of going through a trial."

There are several different theories regarding the cause of Capgras syndrome. One asserts that the source can be due to brain damage. Although the various theories regarding the origins differ, they all tend to conclude that without treatment, symptoms will progress.

"The one aspect they talked about is that it's an illness that often expands," Capgras said. "It may go from one person to someone else. He didn't specifically address this aspect of it, but just like every psychotic disorder, I'm sure it waxes and wanes. All can be treated in some way to minimize symptomology."

Cuccia explained that Wright will be appointed an advocacy lawyer at some point in the future. The hospital will conduct periodic reviews to assess his condition, progress and response to treatment.

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