SALT LAKE CITY — A Holladay man convicted of killing his father in an apparent assisted suicide was sentenced to prison Monday.
Shane Paul Wright, 26, was originally charged with murder, a first-degree felony, in the death of 53-year-old Bryan Wright in 2016. He recently pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter, a second-degree felony.
Bryan Wright struggled with depression and had suicidal thoughts for many years, according to court documents. But family members say he couldn't bring himself to go through with the action due to his religious beliefs.
On Oct. 1, 2016, Wright convinced his son to help him end his life, according to investigators. Shane Wright strangled his father with an extension cord and smothered his face with a pillow, charging documents state. A distraught Wright then called 911.
"I’m sorry. I just assisted my father with suicide … so, I think, I think my dad’s dead. I put him on his bed. I don’t know, he, I’m sorry, (I'm) just shaking," he said in a transcript of the call. "I think I’m going through a little bit of a panic attack here this is, this isn’t something your father shouldn’t ask his son to help kill him, that is not something that fathers do."
Bryan Wright died four days later.
Third District Judge Todd Shaughnessy took the weekend to consider Shane Wright's sentence and held a special hearing Monday to announce his decision. At issue was whether Wright should serve time in the Utah State Prison or remain in the Salt Lake County Jail where he has been since his arrest two years ago.
Shaughnessy said it wasn't an easy decision as he explained the aggravating and mitigating factors that he considered.
"There's really only one person who knows what happened that night," he said.
The judge noted the support Wright had from his family and their testimony was "more persuasive than I thought it would be."
"You are very lucky to have the family you do," Shaughnessy told Wright.
Other mitigating factors included Wright's lack of a criminal history, his genuine remorse, a previously undiagnosed mental illness, and doctors saying he is a low risk to reoffend. There was also a lack of defensive wounds on Wright after the incident, supporting the notion that his father did not try to fight back or stop his son.
But Shaughnessy said there were also aggravating factors, starting with, "This was a brutal, intentional killing of another human being with (your) bare hands."
The judge also pointed out that a year earlier when his father expressed the same suicidal thoughts, Wright took his father to the mental health unit at University of Utah Hospital rather than helping him kill himself.
Shaughnessy said prosecutors had also already shown him a great deal of leniency by reducing his crime to a second-degree felony, thereby dropping his potential sentence from a minimum of 15 years in prison to a maximum of 15 years.
Furthermore, the judge said Wright would likely get better treatment for his mental health issues at the prison. Because of that, he ordered Wright to serve between one and 15 years at the state prison.Comment on this story
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill called it an appropriate resolution to the case, noting that it took into consideration both Wright's mental illness and the seriousness of the crime.
"Just because somebody is mentally ill is not a get-out-of-jail-free card,” he said.
The judge urged Wright to make good use of his time while in prison and to be productive.
"I think you have great days ahead of you," he said.
As Wright was being led out of the courtroom, a family member said "love you" and Wright turned his head and nodded in acknowledgment.