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Wright omnibus hearing details morning of Hennagir murder

Richard Wright

Nine hours after Sonja Hennagir's lifeless body was discovered in her Park Rapids home one year ago, Richard Wright was sitting in a cell block of the Hubbard County Correctional Center watching TV.

He was moved to a booking room to take a phone call.

"Hello," he said to the caller. "Baby I love you. I've done something really bad. I've been charged with second-degree murder.... I was drunk at the time. I love you."

That was the testimony Wednesday at a lengthy omnibus hearing in the case of Wright, who was indicted by a grand jury in September on first-degree murder charges in Hennagir's Jan. 29, 2008 death.

The hearing concluded Wednesday night. The testimony of Wright's jail phone call was provided by Jason Eilers, a correctional officer who'd been on the job less than two weeks when he was asked to escort Wright to the phone.

Eilers testified he didn't know who was on the other end of the phone, but that he didn't think it was standard procedure for inmates to receive calls from persons other than their attorneys.

Eilers was one of nine witnesses to testify. Police officers, Hubbard County investigators and two agents from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension recounted that day from the time of an initial frantic 911 call at 3:42 a.m. until Wright was jailed on the murder charges later that morning.

Prosecutors played a 90-minute tape, recorded during a search warrant execution that extracted DNA samples from Wright's body after his initial arrest.

Wright, 40 at the time, waived his Miranda rights and talked to investigators, telling them Hennagir's death was accidental. He said she died of a seizure and convulsions during an intimate encounter.

Prosecutors maintain Wright, a pipeline worker from Michigan, choked or asphyxiated Hennagir.

Wright, dressed in orange scrubs and shackled at his ankles, sat quietly through the proceedings, hands folded in his lap. His court-appointed attorneys asked that his handcuffs be removed so he could communicate with them or take notes. Judge Paul Rasmussen ordered his handcuffs be removed.

Wright responded only briefly when the judge asked him if he understood he had the right to testify.

Wright's public defenders repeatedly asked him in the judge's presence if he understood that he could testify.

"What is your wish?" they queried their client.

"To not testify at this time," he responded quietly.

The graphic testimony included the playing of the 911 tape, phoned in by Hennagir's friend Jenny Larson, who came upon the scene that morning and found her friend not breathing, slumped over in a chair.

Larson called authorities because she believed Wright was assaulting a child in the home. She ran to a side window to observe what was going on in the house.

The call became more hysterical as Larson repeatedly implored the dispatcher to get officers to the home "right now!"

Larson was in the courtroom for the first part of the hearing Wednesday, but did not testify. As Wright was led into the room, bailiff Phil Stuemke moved protectively toward her. "Are you going to be all right, Jen?" he quietly asked. She nodded yes.

The 911 tape details a fierce struggle between Larson and Wright in the driveway of the Discovery Circle home. Police testified they found Wright on top of Larson and thought they were responding to a domestic dispute. They initially handcuffed both until they could ascertain Larson was also a victim.

An omnibus hearing is used to determine if there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial. Attorneys, who now have six weeks to file briefs, will also argue evidentiary matters in the case.

To read more about the hearing, please see Saturday's edition of the Park Rapids Enterprise.