Old report new hope for inmate
By RICK LEE
For The Evening Sun
Douglas Paul Wright finally has the documents he thinks could free him from prison, or at least get him a new trial.
Convicted of fatally injuring his infant son, Donovan Joseph "D.J." Wright, in 1996, Wright spoke from Somerset State Prison by telephone April 5 in York County Common Pleas Court. He is serving a 20-to-40-year prison sentence for third-degree murder in what doctors determined to be "shaken baby syndrome."
He told Judge John C. Uhler that a family friend, using the Freedom of Information Act, recently had obtained a two-page 1996 police report on a car crash involving D.J. That occurred a month before the infant was hospitalized with severe internal head trauma and broken bones.
Wright, now 31, said witnesses had testified at trial that the accident was "minor" and a "fender-bender" but that the newly acquired police accident report listed the speed of the vehicle carrying D.J. As 99 mph.
According to that report, D.J.'s then 18-year-old mother, April Klinedinst, was traveling south on Biesecker Road in Jackson Township on April 17, 1996, when she lost control of her Volkswagen Jetta on a curve and swerved into a ditch on the west side of the road. The car left 172 feet of skid marks, the Jackson Township Police report states.
In the appeal that Wright wrote in prison, he argued that D.J. "could have sustained prior internal injuries during the accident." He said the infant was not medically examined immediately after the accident.
According to trial testimony, on May 12, 1996, D.J., who had been showing symptoms of distress, became lethargic and was taken to Hanover Hospital. The 4-month-old was immediately transported to Hershey Medical Center, where he remained on life support for 13 months. He died when he was removed from the respirator in accordance with a court order.
Doctors at Hershey determined that D.J.had extensive cranial injuries, a fractured skull and at least 15 "old" rib fractures, as well as broken bones in both legs that occurred three or four weeks before his hospitalization. They attributed his death to shaken baby syndrome, and Wright was arrested on homicide charges.
After his conviction in 1997, Wright filed an appeal on the grounds of ineffective counsel. Among Wright's complaints against the performance Daniel F. Wolfson was the attorney's failure to obtain the accident report.
Last week, Wright reminded Uhler that he had ruled that Wolfson made a good faith effort to procure the report and ultimately determined that "no report had been generated."
Uhler allowed Wright, who is representing himself, to file an amended petition outlining his argument within 20 days. Uhler said if he finds the argument has merit, he will appoint an attorney to represent Wright.