Case Study: The Lorenzen Wright Murder Investigation

Memphis Police Department

The Agency

The Memphis Police Department has approximately 2000 sworn officers. Located in Memphis, Tennessee with a population of over 650,000, they have nine precincts within a 304 square mile area. However, it was through the collaborative effort of multiple agencies and departments, that solved this high-profile homicide case.

Key Insights

  1. Gather all phone evidence even from 3-6 months prior to the incident to determine patterns of life
  2. Save time by quickly analyzing thousands of digital files, including CDRs and tower dumps, to find relevant, useful data
  3. Use social media analysis to reveal connections, trends and relationships that might otherwise go undetected

The Case

On July 22nd, 2010, Lorenzen Wright, a former NBA player, was reported missing by his mother. At the time, little information was available to authorities, except for a 911 call from Wright’s cell phone, which abruptly ended with gunshots. A week later, Wright’s body was discovered with multiple gunshot wounds. The case went cold for nearly seven years due to the missing murder weapon, the main suspects having good alibis and the fact that the importance of analyzing phone records and understanding cell tower data and mapping wasn’t yet a well-known thing amongst all members of law enforcement.

The Challenge

Not only was this a seven-year cold case, but additional challenges themselves during the investigation. The crime scene had been compromised due to the week-long delay in finding Wright’s body, and the murder weapon was not recovered, making it difficult to connect any potential suspects directly to the crime.

Wright’s disappearance was initially treated as a missing persons case, and the abrupt 911 call provided little information about the crime or its location, not to mention the fact that the person listening to the call thought the gunshots were fireworks and therefore didn’t act on the call.

The homicide unit initially on the case was overwhelmed with how to get the call detail records and how to manage and analyze them. They also didn’t understand how the records could be used to understand the suspect’s pattern of life. Therefore, not enough data was gathered at the time and the team missed the conspiracy aspect that had been going on with the suspect and other connected members of the crime.

Even though an initial wiretap had been conducted, again the unit on the case hadn’t understood that what they were listening to was a coded conversation of the murder because they didn’t have the amount of evidence needed to figure out this detail.

The Solution

Six years later, when new evidence had surfaced, the team decided to use PenLink’s advanced analytical technology to revisit the original digital evidence, and combine that with additional search warrants and a new wiretap.

Through a tip, the murder weapon was found in a lake in Mississippi. And, investigators used PenLink to analyze an overwhelming amount of cell phone records. At the time of the murder there were 15 active cell phones in Lorenzen Wright’s home. Once analyzed, the PenLink the team was able to understand patterns of life and tag and label specific communications. The team used information from the cell towers in the area of the homes of all suspects and the murder scene to map the movements of each suspect proving they were indeed at the crime scene.

Though Lorenzen’s wife, the main suspect, had moved to California, a new wiretap was placed on her phone. Memphis PD used an article stating the murder weapon had been found to ‘tickle’ the wire. Within 10 minutes of the article being posted she had been contacted by someone telling her to read the article. And, within two days, she flew from California to Memphis to meet with her co-conspirator.

PenLink was also used to analyze her social media history, finding past conversations with her co-conspirators which she had tried to delete, but also google search history showed relevant searches, that helped to secure the conviction.

The Verdict

PenLink played a pivotal role in analyzing all phone records and social media data pertinent to the case. Mapping the main suspects’ movements by their phone records and cell tower data contributed to the conviction of both Wright’s ex-wife and their yard man. Both were arrested and found guilty of their involvement in the murder.

Conclusion

The Lorenzen Wright murder investigation demonstrates the importance of collecting all possible data from your cases and using modern technology to solve both the seemingly simple and complex homicide cases. Through the meticulous analysis of cell phone records, tower location mapping multiple wiretaps, investigators were able to overcome the challenges posed by time and limited physical evidence. The collaborative effort between agencies also played a crucial role in bringing closure to the victim’s family and ensuring justice was served in this high-profile case. PenLink helped to bring closure to the Wright family and has continued to be utilized at the Memphis Police Department across their departments.

“PenLink helped us overlay and map all of our data, and this is what the jury loves to see.”

Dennis Evans
Sergeant, Memphis Police Department