A Mississippi man has been arrested and charged with murder in the killing of Lorenzen Wright, the basketball standout whose body was found in 2010 and whose slaying has remained a mystery for years, officials announced Tuesday.
Billy R. Turner, 46, was charged with first-degree murder. According to a document, he was indicted Tuesday. The Multi Agency Gang Unit saw him leave a house in the 4700 block of Waterfront Oak Drive, get into a vehicle and travel to the Collierville Express Mart on U.S. 72. He was then arrested and was being held on $1 million bond.
"The Lorenzen Wright case has stayed in the public eye for many years," Memphis police Director Michael Rallings said. "We said many times that we had never stopped investigating."
Wright played for the Memphis Grizzlies and four other NBA teams (including the Atlanta Hawks) as a forward and center over 13 seasons before retiring in 2009.
Deborah Marion, Wright's mother, expressed relief over Tuesday's developments, saying authorities confirmed Turner's arrest shortly before a mid-afternoon news conference.
"I'm ecstatic. I'm full of flame," Marion said, later adding: “We got the main player.”
According to Shelby County court records, Turner has an arrest record dating to 1992.
In August 1992, Turner pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to two years in the Shelby County Correction Center, according to court records.
Aimen Alaina says his family has owned the Collierville Express Mart for 15 years and Turner has been a regular customer for as long as he can remember.
“I’d say at least five times a week, with no bad habits. No cigarettes, no beer, no lottery tickets,” Alaina said. “We’re always laughing together. He’s a nice guy."
No one answered a phone associated with Turner on Tuesday afternoon.
Marion said she considered a lot of possible suspects in the years since her son's death, but she “never, never, never” heard of Turner.
Authorities confirmed last month they had found a gun believed to have been used in Wright's killing in a lake in the Walnut, Mississippi, area. That discovery prompted officials to publicize a $21,000 reward for information established in the case years earlier.
By December 2010, hope of a quick resolution to the case had faded. Authorities said that only 22 tips had come in, and Crime Stoppers Executive Director Buddy Chapman said at the time that they weren't substantive.
It became one of the highest-profile unsolved killings in the city's recent history.
On West South Street in Collierville, neighbors said Turner stayed there with a relative. They couldn’t believe that the man they’ve known for years has been arrested for murder.
“I couldn’t believe it when I heard it. He seems to be a nice person,” said Terrance Jones as he walked on his way to work past the small blue frame house where Turner stays.
It was the same for a group of men who were across the street working on a car.
“I don’t believe he did it,” said Walter Jordan, who has known Turner all his life. “l never would believe he did no stuff like that. ... Because he’s a really nice person. He’s helped me whenever I needed it.”
Turner helped him when Jordan’s truck stopped running, he said, and Turner helped others in the neighborhood with their cars and with work around their homes, as well.
“I don’t think he did it. Somebody framed him probably,” Jordan said.
Mose Stokes has known Turner for decades as well and agrees.
“He ain’t that kind of person. He’s a good man," Stokes said.
At a press conference, Rallings gave a reminder about other Memphis cases that are unsolved.
“We just want to remind everyone that we need citizens to come forward,” Rallings said.
Rallings declined to give information about the relationship between Turner and Wright, or any information about motive. He would also not say if there are other suspects in the Wright case.
“We’ll continue and we’ll just go wherever the investigation leads us,” he said.
Turner is to be arraigned in Shelby County Criminal Court Division 7 in Judge Lee Coffee's court. The date of the arraignment was not immediately known.
"We’re just going to sit around for the next couple of weeks and see what happens,” Marion said.