Amber Wright was fifteen years old when she helped murder a teenage boy in Florida. According to court documents Amber Wright was dating a new guy named Michael Bargo and a plan arrived to murder her former boyfriend Seath Jackson. Amber Wright lured the young man to a home where he was brutally murdered and his body would be cut up and burned. Amber Wright and the rest of the group would be arrested and convicted. This teen killer would be sentenced to life in prison without parole. Michael Bargo (pictured above) was sentenced to death and remains on Florida death row
Amber Wright 2021 Information
|Name:||WRIGHT, AMBER E|
|Initial Receipt Date:||08/23/2012|
|Current Facility:||HOMESTEAD C.I.|
|Current Release Date:||SENTENCED TO LIFE|
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Amber Wright will serve life in prison for her role in the 2011 murder of her 15-year-old ex-boyfriend, a judge ruled on Tuesday. Her sentence will be subject to review after 25 years.
“I have not seen or heard anything more despicable than what lead to Seath Jackson’s death,” Circuit Judge Anthony Tatti told Wright before handing down her sentence.
“I cannot imagine a circumstance any worse, and I pray to my God that the reason behind all this is some chemical imbalance or a brain that hasn’t matured. It’s really hard to deal with the notion that such an evil could exist without an explanation,” Tatti continued.
Tatti’s words — and the sentence he selected for the 19-year-old Amber Wright — echoed those of Circuit Judge David Eddy, who first sentenced Wright in 2012 after a joint trial with her teenage brother and co-defendant. Eddy, at the time, called the murder the most heinous he had seen in 15 years as a judge.
The siblings were among five young people who in 2011 lured Seath to a Summerfield home, where they beat him, shot him and burned his body in a backyard fire pit. Law enforcement authorities recovered Seath’s remains days later in paint buckets dumped at a nearby quarry, where two of the five co-defendants had disposed of them the day after the murder.
Assistant State Attorneys Amy Berndt and Robin Arnold cast the murder as an escalation of animosity between Seath and Amber Wright, who had broken up on poor terms, and between Seath and another co-defendant, Michael Bargo, whom Amber dated after the breakup.
An appellate decision brought Wright back to Marion County for a retrial in January, based on an issue with the timing of her Miranda rights. Although her jury in January again found her guilty of first-degree murder, a statute change between her 2012 sentencing and her sentencing Tuesday left open the possibility of a lighter sentence.
While Florida Statute in 2012 mandated life in prison as the minimum sentence for any first-degree murder conviction, even if the defendant was a juvenile at the time of the murder, it today allows for more discretion on the part of judges in cases with juvenile defendants.
Amber was 15 at the time of the murder, the same age as the victim and the youngest of the five co-defendants.
In a letter she read aloud at the hearing, Sonia Jackson, the victim’s mother, said she has thought about the argument that prompted the statute change: that children’s still-developing minds and consciences are fundamentally different than those of adults, suggesting that children should not be subject to the same penalties.
But in Amber’s case, Jackson rejected that argument, emphasizing in her statement what she cast as Wright’s key role in a deliberately planned murder. Jackson asked Tatti to send her to prison with a life sentence.
“It doesn’t take a fully developed mind to understand right from wrong,” Jackson said. “A 2-year-old learns that hurting others is not acceptable in our society.”
Turning to face Wright, Jackson also echoed words she read at Wright’s original sentencing: “Amber, we hope that guilt eats you inside and out knowing that you caused all this,” she said. “You fed into Bargo’s deranged desires with your lies. All this happened because of you.”
Although Bargo is said to have been the gunman, and is currently serving the most severe sentence, on death row, prosecutors emphasized at trial that Wright’s text messages lured Seath to the home that night. In an interview recorded at the Marion County Sheriff’s Office before her arrest, which the jury heard at trial, Wright said Bargo had pressured her to contact Seath.
Family members and prison ministers who spoke in Amber Wright’s defense acknowledged the Jackson family’s pain, but emphasized that Wright had grown and matured in the five years since Seath’s murder.
“I just hope and pray that you can make the right decision and give her a chance to be the person she could be,” Wright’s mother told Tatti tearfully.
She and two prison ministers said they have already seen changes in Wright since her incarceration, noting that she has since earned her GED and built positive relationships with other inmates.
Amber, who had not spoken at her trial in January, asked Tatti to recognize that she is not the same person she was five years ago. She said she feels guilty and remorseful, and that she finds it difficult to forgive herself, but said she is trying to be a better person.
“I’m not going to say a wonderful person,” she said. “I’m not. I make mistakes. I still do. I just hope one day I’ll be allowed to have that chance to prove myself.
“Not just to you,” she added, “or to anybody else, but to myself as well.”
The current statute on sentencing for defendants who commit serious crimes as children came in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which came down in the weeks before Amber Wright’s trial and sentencing in 2012 and found that mandatory life sentences for juvenile defendants are unconstitutional.
Because Amber and her brother, Kyle Hooper, who was 16-years-old at the time of the murder, were sentenced to life without parole as a mandatory sentence, Hooper has been granted a re-sentencing on appeal. Wright, too, would have received a new sentencing on the same basis had she not been granted a new trial altogether.
The current statute, though, leaves open the possibility of a life sentence for juveniles in cases where a judge finds an intent to kill and considers several additional factors laid out in the statute. Among those factors are the defendant’s age, maturity and intellectual capacity, and the effect of peer pressure on the defendants.
Prosecutors and Junior Barrett, Wright’s attorney, interpreted the factors differently in Wright’s case, with Barrett emphasizing Wright’s age and Berndt emphasizing the gruesome circumstances of the murder.
After hearing all the arguments, Tatti, who said he had never sentenced anyone to life in prison in five years as a judge and did not take the responsibility lightly, sentenced Amber Wright to life in prison with a review after 25 years.
“I hope that what’s responsible for that is some lack of development in your brain, something that you can grow out of,” he told Amber Wright. “That would give me some hope.”
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Amber Wright was one of five young people charged with Seath Jackson‘s murder. Fifteen-year-old Wright and Jackson had been in a relationship, but broke up acrimoniously. Using text messages, Amber Wright and Charlie Ely lured Jackson to a trailer, where Kyle Hooper, Wright’s brother, along with Michael Bargo, her boyfriend, and Justin Soto, beat and shot Jackson before placing his body in a bag and burning it in a backyard fire pit.2 The remains were then shoveled into five-gallon paint buckets and thrown in a rock quarry.
Two days after the murder, Mrs. Tracey Wright, Amber Wright and Hooper’s mother, called Sheriff’s Deputy David Rasnick, telling him that Hooper knew something about Jackson’s disappearance.3 When Deputy Rasnick arrived at the Wright residence, Wright, Hooper, Ely, and Mrs. Wright were all present. Because Hooper became emotional, Deputy Rasnick read him the Miranda warnings. Deputy Rasnick’s supervisor arrived and told him that investigators wanted to interview “the kids” at the station. Deputy Rasnick passed that request on to them, and went next door to find Soto. Deputy Rasnick, Soto, Ely, Wright and Hooper went to the station in Deputy Rasnick’s marked Marion County Sheriff’s Office vehicle, while Mrs. Wright followed behind in her own car. Pursuant to the policies of the sheriff’s office, Deputy Rasnick collected the cell phones of those who rode in his car. No one was handcuffed or expressed any reluctance about going to the sheriff’s office. Instead, the group seemed “nonchalant.” Ely rode in the front, while Hooper, Wright and Soto rode in the back. At the time, Deputy Rasnick regarded Hooper as a “person of interest,” but neither he nor Wright were suspects.
At the sheriff’s office, Amber Wright had three videotaped interviews with Detective Rhonda Stroup. The first interview took place in a “soft room.” Wright and her mother sat together on a large couch, while Detective Stroup sat across from them in a chair. The conversation was calm and patient. Detective Stroup’s questions were factual in nature, and did not accuse or confront either Wright or her mother. During this interview, Wright told Detective Stroup that Jackson “just showed up” at the trailer. Wright claimed that Hooper struck the first blow, frightening her and Ely into hiding in Ely’s room until the next morning. When she woke, the house smelled like bleach.
This first interview lasted about twenty minutes, but the video recording continued for an additional hour. During that time, Amber Wright and her mother primarily stayed in the soft room, which was unlocked. While Detective Stroup was out of the room, she was, among other things, interviewing Hooper, who confessed to the murder and implicated the others, including Wright. Detective Stroup then returned for a second interview. This time, Wright was moved to a “hard room,” a more traditional police interrogation room. To this point, Wright had not been given the Miranda warnings.
Detective Stroup began the second interview by accusing Amber Wright of lying and stating that the interview was “where the rubber hits the road.” Detective Stroup informed Wright that Hooper had told her “everything,” and if Wright continued to lie, she would be treated “like a piece of garbage.” Detective Stroup indicated that she wanted “mutual respect” and the truth, and when pressed, Wright replied, “I’m gonna tell you the truth.” Notwithstanding Wright’s professed willingness to be truthful, she continued to dissemble, prompting Detective Stroup to tell Wright that she was “done with being lied to” and that further lies would lead to her walking out, which was “not what you want.” Finally, Wright admitted her involvement in Jackson’s murder, largely as described by Hooper, prompted by Detective Stroup’s questions. At the conclusion of the second interview, Detective Stroup asked Wright to confirm that no one had offered her anything in exchange for her statement, no one had threatened to beat her, she understood her rights, and her statements were free and voluntary. To all of this, Wright responded, “yes ma‘am.” Detective Stroup then arrested Amber Wright for murder and handcuffed her.
Shortly after the second interview ended, Detective Stroup realized that no one had Mirandized Wright. As a result, she escorted Amber Wright, in handcuffs, back to the soft room for a third interview. At the start of the third interview, Detective Stroup told Wright that she was giving her “the chance to be the honest one.” Detective Stroup informed Wright that she had not been read her rights, and then presented a Miranda waiver form to Wright, noting, “[T]his is something I have to do, OK?” Detective Stroup read the warnings on the form to Wright, ultimately asking, “Do you understand these rights?” Wright nodded affirmatively. Detective Stroup then asked, “Having these rights in mind, do you want to talk about this? And if [so] put your initials right there.” Wright complied, saying, “Might as well get it all out.” After Wright signed the waiver form, Detective Stroup questioned her calmly, frequently referring to inculpatory information gleaned from their just-completed, un-Mirandized second interview. Wright’s answers were consistent with her statements in the second interview. By the time Detective Stroup read Wright her Miranda rights, Wright had been at the sheriff’s office for more than six hours.4
Amber Wright later moved to suppress all of her statements, arguing that they were the product of custodial interrogations, that she had not been Mirandized before the first or second interview, and that the failure to do so tainted the admissions made in the third interview. While the State agreed to the suppression of the second interview, it argued against suppressing the first or third interviews. The State contended that Miranda warnings were not needed for the first interview as it was not the result of a custodial interrogation. It also argued that the Miranda warnings given prior to the third interview cured any taint from the second, un-Mirandized interrogation. Based on the State’s concession, the trial court agreed to suppress Wright’s second interview. Without elaboration, the court denied suppression of the first and third interviews. Wright was ultimately found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. Amber Wright appeals, contending that the admission of her first and third interviews with Detective Stroup violated her constitutional rights against self-incrimination.
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