State v. Wright

Docket Number124,660
Decision Date23 June 2023
PartiesState of Kansas, Appellee, v. Colt Francis Wright, Appellant.
CourtKansas Court of Appeals


Appeal from Saline District Court; PATRICK H. THOMPSON, judge.

Debra J. Wilson, of Capital Appeals and Conflicts Defender Office for appellant.

Natalie Chalmers, assistant solicitor general, and Kris W Kobach, attorney general, for appellee.




Cole Francis Wright appeals the district court's denial of the presentencing motion he filed seeking to withdraw his pleas to multiple violent felonies. The district court conducted an evidentiary hearing and ultimately concluded that Wright failed to verify his allegations that his plea was involuntary as the product of coercion and counsel's lackluster advocacy. Following a thorough review of the record we are satisfied the district court did not abuse its discretion in so finding. The parties also collectively assert that remand is necessary because it is unclear from the court's restitution order when Wright's payment obligation is due. We agree and remand with directions that the order be clarified to properly reflect the district court's intent.


In February 2019, Wright stole a vehicle at gunpoint while at a Salina gas station. After the victim reported the carjacking Salina police officers identified the stolen vehicle and pursued Wright. A car chase ensued during which Wright rammed the stolen vehicle into an officer's patrol vehicle and fired gunshots at three other officers in marked patrol vehicles who were attempting to stop him. One officer was injured when a bullet shattered his windshield and broken glass went into his eyes.

Wright eventually drove the vehicle off the road and down an embankment into a field. He exited the vehicle, and believing that Wright was pointing a gun at them, four police officers engaged in a shootout with him. Wright ran further into the field but was ultimately shot and wounded. Officers took Wright into custody and recovered a Ruger GP100 handgun. The firearm contained four cartridge casings and two empty slots, suggesting Wright had fired at least four shots.

The State charged Wright with six counts of attempted capital murder, four counts of criminal damage to property, three counts of unlawful possession of a controlled substance, and a single count each of aggravated robbery, aggravated battery, fleeing and eluding, and unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia.

Before trial, Wright and his attorneys participated in a successful mediation session with the State. Retired district court judge Jerome Hellmer served as the mediator. Following mediation, the parties went before a district court judge and announced they had reached a plea agreement. Wright agreed to plead guilty to three counts of attempted first-degree murder and one count of aggravated battery in exchange for the State's assurance it would dismiss its motion for an upward departure. The parties agreed to jointly recommend a prison sentence of 30 years. Wright confirmed that he thoroughly discussed the plea with his attorney, he fully understood the proposed agreement and was freely and voluntarily entering the plea.

A formal plea hearing followed, and Wright entered his guilty pleas to three counts of attempted first-degree murder and one count of aggravated battery. He reiterated that he was freely and voluntarily entering his plea and asserted that he was not under the influence of any substance that might impair his judgment. He also assured the court that no one coerced or intimidated him into entering his plea, and he was satisfied with his counsel's representation. The district court found there was a sufficient factual basis in the record to support the pleas, accepted the pleas, and found Wright guilty of the specified offenses.

A few weeks later, Wright moved to withdraw his plea and alleged that following the mediation session, Judge Hellmer ordered that Wright be segregated from other inmates so they would not persuade Wright to change his mind about the plea agreement. He also asserted that the harsh conditions of his isolated confinement compromised his ability to understand the plea agreement and reduced him to an unstable state of mind at the time of the plea hearing.

Wright's plea counsel withdrew, and new counsel was appointed to represent Wright on his claims. His new attorney filed a supplemental motion claiming that Wright's isolated confinement also resulted in a plea that emerged from deceit and coercion and that he did not have the benefit of competent counsel throughout the process.

The court conducted an evidentiary hearing to resolve the matter. Wright testified that he had multiple disagreements with trial counsel about strategic theories before their mediation session with the State. Wright asserted that the investigation was biased because a former Salina Police Department officer was the lead investigator for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation during the officer-involved shooting investigation associated with his case. He also alleged that counsel refused to file a Brady motion after assuring Wright that he would do so. See Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963) (prosecution must turn over all potentially exculpatory evidence to the defense). Wright believed that counsel should have hired an outside investigator because the officers' statements at the preliminary hearing did not match the evidence in discovery.

Wright told the court that he was held in the general population of the Saline County Jail up until the mediation. Consistent with his motion, he claimed that after he agreed to enter a guilty plea, Judge Hellmer directed that Wright be separated from the general population so that other inmates could not persuade Wright to change his mind about the plea deal. Wright testified that when he returned to the jail after mediation, the deputies told him they were holding him in booking on a "watch." Wright claimed that he refused to go because he did not want to be held in such notoriously deplorable conditions but that due to his alleged noncompliance, deputies tased and forcibly placed him in booking. Wright alleged that he endured lock down for 24 hours a day, accompanied by sleep deprivation borne of consistent bright lights and that he was deprived of the ability to make telephone calls.

Wright's prior counsel, Joseph Allen and Charles Lindberg, also testified at the hearing. Allen admitted that he told Wright the plea deal offered at mediation was the best offer Wright had received to date and explained that acceptance of the offer, which contemplated an on-grid known sentence with the possibility of good time credit, would enable Wright to know for certain when he might be released from prison. Whereas if he proceeded to trial on the full range of his current charges, his sentence was unpredictable and came with the possibility that he might never be released from prison. Allen testified that he was confident Wright would have been successful on some charges at trial, but that his case was also plagued with problematic facts that made certain charges difficult to defend against.

Allen added that he and Lindberg discussed the option of a voluntary intoxication defense with Wright, but Allen was concerned how the jury might perceive this information. Thus, Allen thought using Wright's level of intoxication during the incident to mitigate a potential sentence was the more advantageous route to pursue. Allen and Lindberg also harbored concerns that Wright would have to admit to some drug crimes if he opted to testify and before the plea hearing they had not yet decided whether Wright would testify.

Allen explained that he did not file a Brady or a Giglio motion because they offered no benefit. See Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150, 92 S.Ct. 763, 31 L.Ed.2d 104 (1972) (prosecution must disclose to defense all potential impeachment information regarding government witnesses). That is, much of the evidence consisted of interviews with law enforcement officers, and he did not believe there was any issue with their statements or reports. Additionally, any failure by the State to turn over exculpatory evidence in its control would be beneficial to Wright on appeal. Allen explained he opted not to hire an investigator because he did not want to risk uncovering other officers who claimed Wright also shot at them and who then might be added as new victims. In his professional opinion, Allen did not believe an independent investigation would change the complexion of the case.

Finally, Allen acknowledged that the jail placed Wright in isolation after the mediation session but had no recollection of any orders for Wright to be isolated from other inmates. To the extent any such comments were made Allen believed it was done in jest. Allen knew Wright was less than pleased about his placement in isolation and acknowledged it made him slightly concerned that Wright might change his mind about the plea. But when Allen spoke with Wright before the plea hearing, Wright advised Allen that he wanted to proceed as planned. Finally, Allen asserted that he did not believe there was any evidence to support Wright's allegation that he was coerced, threatened, forced, or unduly pressured into entering a plea.

Lindberg testified that he was not present at the end of the mediation when Judge Hellmer made the alleged comment to hold Wright in isolated confinement, but believed if such an order was implemented it was deemed necessary for Wright's emotional benefit. Lindberg also recalled that Judge Hellmer explained that the proposed plea...

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