Eric Heisig and Nate Monroe / Houma Courier
If the devil made Jeremiah Wright brutally kill his 7-year-old son, family and friends say they never saw it coming.
'I would have never thought he was capable of doing it,' said Gabby Chatagnier, a longtime friend. 'He was not the type. He was a goofy guy.'
Wright, 30, is accused of first-degree murder in the death of his son, Jori Lirette, two weeks ago today. The 7-year-old's head was found in front of Wright's West Seventh Street home in Thibodaux by a passing driver, police said, with the rest of his body in a white trash bag nearby.
Wright confessed to Thibodaux Police later that day, repeatedly calling Jori a 'dummy' and not his son, authorities said. He told police he killed his son out of anger at his girlfriend and the boy's mother, 27-year-old Jesslyn Lirette, records show. Jesslyn has said she planned to end their tumultuous 10-year relationship the day their son died.
Wright, held in isolation at the Lafourche Parish jail in lieu of $5 million bond, was indicted Friday by a grand jury. He's scheduled to return to court Monday morning for a new post-indictment arraignment.
If convicted, Wright faces mandatory life in prison. District Attorney Cam Morvant, who will be prosecuting Wright, said there has been no decision yet on whether prosecutors will seek the death penalty.
Wright had no violent criminal convictions before he allegedly killed his son, court records show, though there were hints of deeper turmoil with his recent behavior toward Jori and Jesslyn.
Jori's slaying sparked a wave of varied emotions throughout the community. Residents have expressed shock and grief, sympathy for the boy and his mother, as well as vengeance for one of the most heinous killings anyone can remember happening in Thibodaux.
The Courier and the Daily Comet's Facebook pages have served as an outlet where many have expressed their views. And though the court case is in its early stages, many write that they have already passed judgment.
'If you confess to committing a crime, you should waive your right to a trial. I mean, he confessed,' one post reads. 'Why does he need a trial? Everyone here knows what should happen now. ... Why waste tax dollars on him?'
'Let jailhouse justice prevail,' reads another.
A Facebook page called Justice for Jori, which had more than 8,600 followers as of Saturday, contains a similar outpouring.
'I'm sad, angry, and confused because I can't believe such evil exists in this world,' one message says. 'It just shows you that abusers don't always hit. In his final act of abuse, this horrible monster took away the one thing that makes a mother live her child.'
In contrast, several people who know Wright said they could not foresee the tragic acts Wright allegedly committed. Problems in the couple's relationship were well-known to Jesslyn and Wright's friends and family, but the boy's mother has maintained in interviews that Wright loved the child.
'OUT OF TROUBLE'
Wright is one of at least 11 siblings and half-siblings born from his mother, Rachelle Gros. He was born in Belle Rose, friends said, and later moved to Thibodaux. Wright's biological father, Bruce Mickell Wright, did not help raise his son, family and friends said.
Bruce Wright could not be located for this story.
Thomas Bergeron Sr., Jeremiah Wright's maternal grandfather, raised him, family said. Bergeron died in 2009 at the age of 88.
Donald Gros, who married Wright's mother in April 1995, said Wright and his siblings would often visit Rachelle on weekends, but Wright did not live with his mother.
Rachelle has struggled with drug addiction for years, Donald said. Though the pair separated more than 12 years ago, they are still legally married, according to Assumption Parish court documents.
Rachelle Gros and Wright's brother, Trevor Wright, were contacted for this story but both refused to comment. In an earlier interview, Rachelle Gros said Jeremiah was her 'most loving child.'
In high school, Jeremiah Wright was not athletic, said his friend, Mark Chatagnier, who met Wright when they both went to West Thibodaux Junior High School. Jeremiah preferred to play video games, an interest that continued into adulthood.
Chatagnier said Wright's favorite game was 'Mortal Kombat,' which he often played on Sega CD and later on his Xbox.
As a teen, Donald Gros said, Wright got into some trouble but was never violent. He joined the Louisiana National Guard after his 2002 graduation from Thibodaux High School.
'He thought that may keep him out of trouble,' Gros said.
Wright was discharged honorably from the Marrero-based guard company in 2008, authorities said. His employment history is spotty from there, often a point of tension between him and Jesslyn throughout their decade-long relationship.
Last month, Thibodaux Police were called to the couple's home because of a dispute the two had over money. No charges were filed.
Wright quit a new job after two days, the police report says.
'He can't handle having a boss,' Gabby Chatagnier said, adding that Wright's dream was to open a flower shop. 'Nobody comes and fusses at you; I think that's why it appealed to him. You do what you want when it's yours.'
Those close to Jesslyn and Wright said she was the breadwinner, while Wright spent his days with Jori.
'He cleaned the apartment and changed the baby's diapers,' said Mildred Mire, who owns the West Seventh Street duplex where the couple had lived since May. 'He was the one who fixed the feeding tube.'
Wright also helped his landlord repair a fire-damaged duplex.
'He went and helped (my husband) Ray haul bricks,' Mire said of Wright. 'He wanted to help Ray several times.'
The couple always sent rent checks on time, she said, and they appeared, for the three-and-a-half months they rented the duplex, to be reliable tenants.
Mire recalls friends and family of Jesslyn's stopping by the house on several occasions but said Wright didn't appear to have visitors.
'We never saw him come around with friends,' she said. 'I didn't even see his family come over.'
None of the people interviewed for this story, including Jesslyn, said Wright was a bad father. He stayed at home all day with Jori, who had cerebral palsy. The boy was confined to a wheelchair and was fed via a tube.
'He spent so many years taking care of Jori,' Gabby Chatagnier said.
Jesslyn has said she also took care of Jori, but her caretaker job meant she was often away from home during the day.
Mire said Wright spent most of his time at the house, often playing video games.
'WHAT MADE HIM SNAP'
Louis Schlesinger, professor of forensic psychology at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice in New York, said it is difficult for anyone to pinpoint signs that would indicate a father would one day kill his child.
'It's so rare. Who thinks that's a possibility?' Schlesinger said. 'If someone says they're stressed about their child, do they think they're going to chop the head off the next day?'
Friends say the horrible acts Wright is accused of committing left them puzzled.
'I couldn't tell you what made him snap,' Gabby Chatagnier said.
She and others said they never saw Wright act violently and described him as quiet and laid-back, but court papers document a more-complicated situation.
In 2004, Jesslyn sought and received a pair of restraining orders, barring Wright from going near her or Jori. In court papers, she told the judge Wright pushed her while pregnant with Jori and that he had spoken about murdering his infant son.
Jesslyn said other incidents of violence toward her and Jori went unreported. Jesslyn's mother, Delene Himel, said she observed more aggression in Wright's demeanor over the past few months.
Schlesinger said the answer may take years to find, even if Wright truly felt he loved his child.
'An individual mind will defend itself, just like you can choke and reflexively cough,' Schlesinger said. 'The mind will convince itself and say things like 'Your child had a miserable life.' '
Those close to Wright share in the community's sadness for what happened to Jori, but for them, there is an added layer of betrayal.
'This is someone I trusted to sleep in the same house as me,' Gabby Chatagnier said.
Some wonder if this is the same person they knew.
'He was a loving, caring person,' Mire said. 'Why do you think this is so hard to take?'
Friends, family discuss man accused of beheading his son
Eric Heisig and Nate Monroe / Houma Courier