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Wright v. State

United States District Court, D. Alaska

May 8, 2019

SEAN WRIGHT, Petitioner,
v.
STATE OF ALASKA, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

          JAMES K. SINGLETON, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Sean Wright, a state prisoner now represented by counsel, filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus with this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, dated February 27, 2018. In the Petition, Wright challenges his 2009 conviction for sexually abusing two young girls on the ground that his speedy trial rights were violated when the State of Alaska filed a felony information against him in November 1999 but did not arrest or indict him on the charges until almost five years later, and he did not proceed to trial on the charges until almost ten years later. Respondent has answered, and Wright has replied.

         I. BACKGROUND/PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

         In November 1999, Wright was charged in a felony information with sexually abusing two young girls. On direct appeal of his conviction, the Alaska Supreme Court laid out the following facts underlying the charges against Wright and the procedural background of his case:

A. Facts
The State began investigating Wright in February 1999 after receiving a report that Wright had sexually abused his eleven-year-old stepdaughter, K.A. K.A. and her mother, Evelyn Wright, had confronted Wright about the abuse, and Wright moved out of the home, at which point they informed the police. Alaska State Trooper Investigator Ruth Josten interviewed K.A. and Evelyn on February 16 and 17, 1999. Evelyn indicated that Wright may have also abused another child, M.C., the daughter of his prior long-term partner. On March 4, Josten made contact with M.C., who confirmed that Wright had sexually abused her a decade prior.
When the investigation into the sexual abuse began, Wright left the state. Initially, he stayed with his brother in Arkansas. He subsequently decided to leave Alaska permanently and, over the next five years, worked various jobs in Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Minnesota.
At first, Wright stayed in contact with Evelyn via phone and letter. He called Evelyn on February 28 and March 1, 1999, but would not say where he was. Josten placed a phone trap on Evelyn's phone on March 2. With the phone trap, the Matanuska Telephone Authority identified phone calls from Wright to Evelyn on March 9, 10, and 11 as coming from Arkansas. In phone calls between February 28 and April 1, Wright expressed concern that the calls might be monitored by police, checked to see whether a warrant had been issued for him, indicated that he was attempting to retain counsel, and expressed his desire to achieve a non-criminal resolution of the allegations against him.
In mid-March 1999, he returned to Alaska. He stayed with a friend in Anchorage except for the weekend of March 20-21, which he spent with Evelyn in Wasilla. While back in Alaska he sold land to a friend, arranged to sell his truck, and placed his personal belongings in storage. On March 22 he formally resigned from his job and took a “red-eye” flight that night back to Arkansas. While Wright was waiting for his flight out of Alaska, he wrote to a friend:
I don't know what's going on but I got a bad feeling, time to travel while I can. Note to trust no one, I won't call for a long time and don't know where I'm going yet. Have to stick to myself and stay away from family and friends till my attorney knows what's happening and how to deal with it. So I act like a termite for a while and work where I can to pay lawyer and survive.
Josten did not learn that Wright had been in Alaska until May 1999. Wright did not return to Alaska until after he was arrested in Minnesota in 2004.
Wright telephoned Evelyn frequently for several months after permanently leaving the state, but according to Evelyn, this regular contact ended after a warrant was issued. On May 6, 1999 Wright wrote to Evelyn to send her an address where he could receive mail. The address was his brother's in Vilonia, Arkansas, but it was clear this was only a forwarding address. He wrote, “Bill will get my mail to me were [sic] I'm at.” This was the only address Evelyn and Josten had for Wright.FN1 The record reflects that Wright also occasionally received mail at several mailing addresses in Russellville, Arkansas, where he at times lived with a girlfriend.FN2 And Wright kept his brother apprised of where he was working.
FN1. Evelyn used the Vilonia address to contact Wright in order to obtain a dissolution of their marriage. The Palmer superior court did so as well. Wright waived his right to appear in the dissolution proceedings and signed the dissolution paperwork before a notary in Arkansas.
FN2. At one of the Russellville addresses, Wright received a summons from a law firm about a case in Juneau regarding his overdue student loans. He also gave a Russellville address to the Alaska Bureau of Vital Statistics when he made a request for a death certificate.
Josten completed her investigation in June 1999. She forwarded the information she had gathered to the district attorney's office for review, and, aware that Wright had fled the state, requested that an extraditable arrest warrant issue. Her request was declined, “inexplicably, ” according to the superior court.
Five months later, in November 1999, the State filed a criminal information with the court charging Wright with eleven counts of sexual abuse of a minor. On November 16, 1999, an arrest warrant was issued for Wright. But the warrant was non-extraditable, so it was not placed in the FBI's National Crime Information Center system.
In the summer of 1999, Josten was reassigned. Between then and 2004, she periodically checked for information about Wright using databases available to Alaska State Troopers, but she made no other efforts to locate Wright.
Wright obtained an Arkansas driver's license in 2001. And between 1999 and 2004 he worked at a number of nuclear facilities requiring security clearance. Had his warrant been entered into the National Crime Information Center database, his employers would have discovered it.
On September 17, 2004, almost five years after the felony information was filed, Alaska State Trooper Sergeant Iliodor Kozloff received an inquiry from an employer in Minnesota about Wright.FN3 Sgt. Kozloff confirmed there was an arrest warrant for Wright, but discovered that it was non-extraditable. He then contacted the district attorney's office, which decided to obtain an extraditable warrant. Wright was subsequently arrested and brought back to Alaska.
FN3. According to the State, the personnel officer who made the inquiry was suspicious since “it appeared that Mr. Wright wasn't providing any residences since living in Alaska.”
On October 3, 2004, Wright was arraigned on the charges filed in 1999. On October 12, 2004, a grand jury indicted Wright on eighteen counts of sexual abuse of a minor covering the abuse of K.A., M.C., and a third girl, T.W.FN4
FN4. The State later agreed to dismiss the counts pertaining to the abuse of T.W. on statute ...

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