Gregory Wright

A reader, Mr B, questioned my characterization last week of Mike Ramsey, Butte County District Attorney. Ramsey’s been in office since 1987, a good reason to pick somebody new. All that experience can corrupt as easily as season. Twenty-three years in one job would make anybody at least stale, and I think a one-term limit will deepen what I’ll call our democracy and diffuse all that power rather than privatize it. Any government job that requires more than one term to do well should be restructured.

Mr B asks if the district attorney’s office has “been involved in any innovative law enforcement strategies such as drug court, or other programs to divert away from incarceration.” I have no idea. I’m sure over the years the office of the Butte County district attorney has made some liberal moves. Governments act for lots of different reasons, and with an authoritarian relationship like that of the district attorney to everybody else, especially staff, there’s no way you or I will ever know who imagined a change and who made it happen. I commend Mr. Ramsey for any and all liberal, humanitarian changes instituted while he’s been in office, especially the ones he thought up on his own. Huzzah!

Gregory Wright refused a plea bargain that some said would have been a better deal. Greg’s talents seem not to be intellectual and at seventeen he had a right to make some bad decisions, especially on the advice of his attorney, who recommended that he accept 22 years, rather than 7-to-life. Here’s a good account of the case. At seventeen you wouldn’t have known what to do either. He was depressed and lovelorn and started out to kill himself. He didn’t press charges though.

The district attorney’s office didn’t have to do anything at all. Greg was charged as an adult with attempted murder, two obvious lies. Such nonsense may be legally valid, but the law can be anything—corrupt, unfair, inhumane, stupid, vengeful. In the world of plain English, Greg didn’t try to kill anybody. The Butte Country district attorney’s office prosecuted as an adult for attempted murder a minor whom they knew had not tried to kill anyone, and then dropped the bogus murder charge in the plea bargain. That’s what happened. Greg got 22 years, some bargain.

Yes, Greg brought a gun to school. Cops do it all the time. Yes, he twice fired shots into the ceiling for emphasis. He also let the students in the band room leave, and some stayed with him to try to talk him out of killing himself. That’s how the people there felt about him.

I’m not judging Ramsey’s overall performance. He’s obviously good enough for voters. I just think compassionate government is possible, and now is a good time.


  1. Laurel Avalon says:

    Yeah, “seven years to life” could easily have turned into “life” for the young Mr. Wright. In fact, more often than not that kind of sentence turns into a life sentence—or damn close to it. At least with a fixed term sentence he may get some of the time shaved off . . . but what kind of a choice is that for a troubled kid?

    Why can’t the choices be along the lines of: “Seven years to life of mental health counseling, job training, mentoring, health care” or “go to jail—you choose, kid.”

    • Exactly. As you say, “7-to-life” was likely to be just “life.” And the choices can be as you suggest. From Bertrand Russell (1872–1970)—
“The reformative effect of punishment is a belief that dies hard, chiefly, I think, because it is so satisfying to our sadistic impulses.”

  2. How can a 17-year-old kid who obviously makes poor decisions enter into a plea agreement that has a devastating impact on his life when other young people can’t sign into binding agreements until they are 21?

  3. Jim Adams says:

    Thank you Mr. Porter for bringing teenager Gregory Wright again to our consciousness. I agree with you comments. We have maintained contact with him and his family. I will send a clipping of your column to him as an encouragement.
    DA Mike Ramsey is on record for saying, “he will get the help that he needs in prison.” The facts are contrary; he hasn’t even been able to get a GED class though he tried. The nature of his long 22-year sentence has severely limited his access to services. Services are being cut to the citizenry but the cuts in prison are extreme with no change in sight. He is getting some education from the neo-Nazi world. Last week he had to make a tough decision. He chose a life in PC (administrative segregation) rather than harm another inmate.
    We will begin again to get him some help after the election on June 8. All our efforts to date have been frustrated. It seems ironical to me that the very man in charge of his prosecution has been awarded a judgeship by the Governor! On his website our DA boasts about protecting local youth, but is not Gregory himself one of our youth?

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