DALLAS - Almost a year after Alfred Wright left his pickup truck at an East Texas grocery store and mysteriously disappeared into the woods, federal authorities have charged a man for selling the drugs they say caused Wright's death.
Shane Dewayne Hadnot was indicted for two drug-distribution counts leading to Wright's death, the U.S. attorney's office in Beaumont announced Friday. The indictment against Hadnot says Wright died of a drug overdose and had cocaine, methamphetamine and the antidepressant Xanax in his system.
The announcement did not satisfy Wright's family, which has long accused authorities of not doing enough to find him or investigate the potential of a homicide.
"I am really convinced that this is a follow-up to a full-fledged cover-up and they're using this young man as the fall guy, as the smoke screen," said his father, Douglas Wright, in a statement to KFDM-TV.
But John Malcolm Bales, the U.S. attorney for Texas' eastern district, rejected any suggestion of a cover-up. Bales said in an interview with The Associated Press that his office re-interviewed witnesses and examined previous law enforcement work. Prosecutors found no evidence to back up anything beyond the finding that Wright died due to an overdose of drugs he purchased from Hadnot, Bales said.
"I don't expect people to just believe our indictment, but it is the product of hours and hours and hours of work, and a lot of expense and time, to find out what happened," Bales said.
Wright's decomposing body was found Nov. 25 by a group of volunteer searchers, 18 days after he is believed to have left his truck behind in a rural area south of Hemphill, about 170 miles northeast of Houston.
According to the indictment, Wright had exchanged a flurry of text messages with Hadnot earlier in the day. The indictment said Wright asked in one text message for "1 gino and a 20 and 3 handles," which, according to Hadnot, meant 1 gram of cocaine, $20 worth of methamphetamine and three tablets of Xanax.
Hadnot's attorney did not return a message from The Associated Press.
The indictment said one of Wright's physical therapy patients noticed before his disappearance that he was "unusually late, agitated and disoriented." Authorities say Wright eventually left the patient's home and made it to the parking lot of the grocery store, where he called his wife, Lauren, who sent his parents to pick him up.
Shortly afterward, a witness said Wright "put the phone in his sock and jogged north on Highway 87," according to the indictment.
Wright's parents quickly reported him missing, and bits of his clothing and a watch were found nearby. But it took more than two weeks for Wright's body to be found.
An official autopsy concluded the death was accidental. But Wright's family hired a forensic pathologist who said she found evidence "suspicious of homicidal violence."
Wright's father and widow did not return phone messages Friday from The Associated Press.
Wright, who is black, lived in Jasper, an East Texas town notorious for being the site of the 1998 murder of James Byrd Jr., who was dragged to death by a group of white men.
"We can't forget the history of the area because we're both from here," Lauren Wright told the AP earlier this year.
Bales said he spoke to Wright's family Thursday night.
"I don't have anything but sorrow for them, and we grieve for their loss," he said Friday. "But it's not true that he was the victim of racial violence. What he was the victim of was a lesson there that recreational drug use is ... incredibly foolish and it can cost you your life. And it cost Alfred Wright his."
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee released the following statement:
"Because of the grieving Wright family I thought it was important to press for a federal investigation in the death of Alfred Wright. It has come to my attention that there are many aspects surrounding the death of Mr. Wright that have not been fully investigated. I have always viewed the United States Department of Justice, especially under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder, as a place of refuge and an important vehicle of justice.
Today I believe the work has started but it is not complete but at the same time it is urgent that community leaders and the lawyers of the NAACP continue to press forward for an expanded investigation from the United States Department of Justice based in Washington, DC. It is good for the value and our beliefs in words 'Justice For All' that a stronger and further investigation take place."