Keith Jerome Wright had money and education. He could play football at the highest level. He grew up in a stable home. He got married and had a son who looked up to him as a hero.
But there he was Friday, about to get sentenced to 114 years to life in prison, plus another 120 years and eight months, on 19 felonies that stemmed from three home invasion robberies in the Natomas area, including one in which Wright sexually assaulted a woman.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael A. Savage called Wright an all-conference defensive end out of Missouri who signed a big-money deal as a 2003 sixth-round National Football League draft pick "a very unusual criminal defendant."
The judge considered the positives, compared them to the negatives, then poked into a couple of criminal capers in Wright's teenage past and came up with his answer to how the kid with brains and brawny talent went way bad.
It turned out, Savage suggested, that authorities coddled the big guy. While on a recruiting trip to Pima County to play football in Arizona, Wright was arrested for residential burglary. Then, after he had signed with Missouri, he stole a friend's credit card and ripped him off for cash.
In both cases, Savage said from the bench, "there were literally no significant consequences" imposed on Wright, simply because the 6-3, 300-pounder out of Sacramento City College knew how to get after the quarterback.
"I don't understand all the details, of course, but it appears that your athletic achievement or prowess significantly mitigated the consequences of your youthful criminality," Savage told Wright from the bench. In Arizona, "the system gave you a break," the judge said, "and I'm confident that your status as an Arizona football prospect assisted in that regard."
Not only did the felony theft in Missouri result in no jail time for Wright, but it "had no impact on your playing time," either, Savage said.
"I have the distinct impression that your ability to sack quarterbacks worked much like a get-out-of-jail-free card," Savage told Wright. "That may have given you the wrong impression about whether or not you are required to follow the rules of this society."
Jurors convicted Wright on Oct. 22 of the three residential robberies. In one of them, jurors found he made a 61-year-old man crawl around his house on his hands and knees while the defendant held a gun to the victim's head, demanding cash and other valuables. In another, he locked two men into the trunk of a car parked in their garage while he looked for money and marijuana they didn't have.
In the most serious incident, he broke in on a woman and ordered her at gunpoint to strip naked. After forcing her to give him oral sex, he ordered her to drive him to an ATM machine and withdraw $300 cash. Then he had her drive back to her house where he stole jewelry, made her take off her top and took a picture ordering her to "look happy," Wright's probation report said.
At his trial, Wright took the witness stand to deny the thefts. With his DNA deposited at the scene of the sex crime, Wright testified it was consensual. He even worked the names of the victim's children into his story to try and make it sound more plausible.
Wright, at the outset of his sentencing hearing, asked if he could waive his presence. Savage denied it. Then Wright told the court his conviction was "based on lies." He said "I feel like I didn't receive a fair trial," that none of the victims could identify him. He called his conviction "a miscarriage of justice."
Savage got the last word on all counts. The picture of the sexual assault victim: "depraved." The story on her consent to his attack: "reprehensible." Wright's testimony on whole: "laughable." The defendant's remarks about the quality of justice at his trial, given the evidence that convicted him: "remarkable."
According to Wright's probation report, he signed a three-year deal for $925,000 when he was drafted by the Houston Texans. The report quoted Wright as saying he stands to earn $580,000 a year on his NFL pension.
His attorney, Assistant Public Defender Andy Read, said his understanding is that the $580,000 represented his pay "at one point in time," that Wright who played on the Texans' practice squad and later on those of the Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers isn't receiving it. Nor is Wright old enough yet to qualify for an NFL pension, Read said.
Deputy District Attorney Amy Holliday said that based on Wright's comments about his big pension, "the people are asking after he satisfies victim restitution, he pays back the county for each and every dime spent on his representation on this matter."
Savage granted the request.