Refusal Of Deal Costly
Robbery Defendant Could Have Walked, Faces 22-Year Term
HARRISONBURG — Had Mark Wright taken a deal and pleaded guilty Tuesday morning, he likely would have been sentenced to time served and walked out of court a free man. Instead, he’s now looking at more than two decades behind bars.
The 51-year-old accused in a bizarre shoplifting incident that led to a police standoff in the Barrington subdivision south of Harrisonburg opted for a jury trial over a plea deal with prosecutors.
On Tuesday, that gamble backfired when he was found guilty by a panel of 12 of his peers in Rockingham County Circuit Court. The jury recommended he spend the next 22½ years in prison.
Judge James Lane will formally hand down the sentence Feb. 12.
The jury convicted Wright of felony malicious bodily injury by use of a caustic substance, felony robbery, felony assault and battery of a police officer and three misdemeanor charges.
During opening arguments, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Adam Evans said Wright, along with his co-defendant and brother, Robert Wright, 54, of Harrisonburg, turned what was initially a minor offense into a huge ordeal.
“It was a series of events and bad decisions that kept getting worse and worse and worse,” Evans told the jury. “They continued to dig deeper and deeper.”
Police say the incident began about 6 p.m. March 25, when employees of the Martin’s grocery store on East Market Street in Harrisonburg reported that two suspects, later identified as the Wrights, had taken beer and sandwiches and threatened an employee.
The brothers fled and headed for a home at 1732 Boyers Road, just southeast of Harrisonburg.
Police say the Wrights deployed tear gas toward officers who arrived on the scene as the brothers barricaded themselves in the house.
The standoff ended two hours later when SWAT members entered the residence and took the men into custody.
During the trial, Mark Wright’s defense attorney, Andrew Graves, argued that his client did not release the gas in the home, nor did he threaten an employee. He argued that his client simply shoplifted.
On Aug. 7, Robert Wright pleaded guilty to three felonies: larceny, assault and distribution of marijuana. He also pleaded to misdemeanor obstruction of justice and petit larceny.
As part of a plea deal, Lane sentenced him to 22 years in prison with all but six months suspended, equivalent to time served.
Contact Pete DeLea at 574-6278 or firstname.lastname@example.org