The Investigators: After he was murdered, his wife got his killer’s properties and thousands of dollars in back taxes

Updated: Oct. 29, 2020 at 10:55 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - In 2001, Shelby County Code Enforcement Officer Mickey Wright was murdered while on the job, after he wrote a citation to a business owner on Lamar Avenue.

That business owner - Dale Mardis - was eventually convicted of dismembering Wright’s body and burning it inside an oil drum.

Later, a Shelby County judge awarded the Wright family ownership of Mardis' three Memphis properties, including the building where Wright was last seen alive.

Along with the properties, Wright’s family became responsible for tens of thousands of dollars in back taxes.

When Mickey Wright responded to the car lot at 2524 Lamar on April 17, 2001 , Mardis had received multiple complaints about code violations.

“His boss with code enforcement was like, ‘Send Mickey out there he’ll fix it’", said Wright’s widow, Frances Wright-Moore. “Well, that didn’t happen.

Frances and their children never saw Mickey again.

Ten days after he disappeared, authorities found Wright’s burned work truck in a rural Mississippi wheat field.

Law enforcement arrested Mardis three years later. He eventually confessed to killing Wright, dismembering his body and burning it.

Wright’s remains have never been located.

“That guy didn’t know Mickey,” said Wright-Moore. “He was just a wicked person. He is a wicked person.”

Mardis was sentenced first in a Shelby County courtroom for second-degree murder.

Then, he was federally indicted after evidence showed Mardis killed Wright, not only because Wright ticketed Mardis' building, but also because Wright was black.

Mardis is currently serving a life sentence in a Tennessee prison.

The story was far from over.

Wright-Moore then filed a civil lawsuit against Dale Mardis and his wife, who court documents show confessed to knowing her husband killed someone.

After multiple setbacks, and plenty of litigation, a judge finally awarded Wright-Moore $15 million and the Mardis' three properties -- two in Cooper-Young and the building on Lamar.

“Got the property and then I get another curveball. Oh, Regina and the Trustee’s Office say ‘you got the property and now you got the taxes to go along with it’ and I’m like ‘what taxes?’ I’m like this never stops. What taxes?” said Wright-Moore.

Regina Newman collects taxes for Shelby County as its trustee.

County and city taxes on the three Mardis properties hadn’t been paid in years. More than $113,000 were owed on the Lamar property alone.

“I start getting these bills at my home telling me I owe back taxes for the murderer!” Said Wright-Moore.

Not knowing where to turn, she reached out to her state Rep. Dwayne Thompson.

“Is this fair? Is this justice? And no, it was not,” said Thompson.

Thompson says he’d followed the Wright murder case until Mardis was put in prison.

“Were you surprised when you saw what had happened after quote unquote justice had been served?” the Investigators asked Thompson.

“Absolutely, absolutely,” said Thompson.

Because of Wright-Moore, Thompson introduced a bill this last legislative session that would waive back taxes for crime victims who are awarded property in civil judgements.

“This is an unusual case. It’s a unique case. It’s not going to happen that often but when it does happen, I feel that we should do the right thing,” said Thompson.

The bill was introduced in the Criminal Justice Subcommittee but failed because it was unconstitutional.

The Tennessee Constitution states tax relief may only be provided to low-income elderly and totally and permanently disabled residents.

Wright-Moore doesn’t qualify for either category.

To help her, the state constitution would have to change.

“It’s like every door I open it gets slammed in my face,” she said.

“There’s no way that any attorney would’ve been able to get the county trustee to waive those prior year taxes. That’s how government works,” said David Anthony, a creditor’s attorney based in Nashville.

According to Anthony, when Wright-Moore was awarded the properties she also became responsible for the back taxes.

Since Wright-Moore would likely never see a penny of the $15 million she was awarded because the Mardises didn’t have the money, her only source of financial retribution was those properties, he says.

“It stinks that Ms. Wright got these properties subject to these liens but that’s how judgment collections work,” said Anthony. “You kind of take the assets as they are.”

In Wright’s case, the lien is those back taxes.

Wright paid the taxes on the two midtown properties but didn’t pay anything toward 2524 Lamar. She says she couldn’t afford the minimum due.

So even though the building was part of the county court’s punitive judgment for her husband’s murder, the county seized the property last year when she couldn’t pay the taxes and offered it for sale to the highest bidder.

“I’m like - what are these people doing?” asked Wright-Moore.

When no one bought the property, it became Shelby County’s responsibility.

The county has been trying to put the property - and taxes - back in Wright-Moore’s name because it’s not only a financial burden, says the county, but the site was recently deemed an environmental hazard.

Wright-Moore still wants the property back.

“I’m not just going to hand you off the property,” she said. “I’ve been fighting for 19 years to get this, to slay this monster. I’ll pay the base tax, even though they’re not mine. Then, maybe I can close this chapter in my life."

“We hear that the wheels of justice turn slowly - did you think they would turn this slowly?” asked the Investigators.

“No not at all,” said Wright-Moore. “My husband loved Memphis, and I just thought Memphis would’ve been a lot kinder to us, and they have shown me the total difference.”

“What would you like them to know about your willpower to fight this fight to the end?” asked the Investigators.

“My children deserve to know their father did not die in vain,” said Wright-Moore. “I’m not giving up. I’m not giving up and I just want them to do the right thing and let us move on with our lives. That’s what I want.”

If the building on Lamar is put back into Wright-Moore’s name, she will owe more than $80,000 total on the three properties she was awarded.

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