The laughter of a toddler can be such a joyful memory. “She laughed with her whole soul. Her belly laugh – you felt it,” Christie Atkinson fondly remembers of her niece, Alexxys Wright.
Alexxys was smart. She was incredibly articulate and expressive for her age. She was vigilant, like her favorite TV friend Dora the Explorer. Christie recalls hiding Alexxys’s Christmas gifts on the porch so the pesky Swiper the Fox wouldn’t swipe them.
Alexxys Wright was only 2 years old when her life was ended at the hands of a family caregiver in July of 2003.
Christie would receive the devastating phone call shortly after arriving back home from vacation. The message alerted her of “an accident” that involved Alexxys.
She was shocked. She had just talked to Alexxys that morning.
That initial phone call, and the shock that resulted, simply could not prepare Christie and the family for the reality of what occurred. “They said she had slipped, fallen on Kool-Aid. But I knew, I just felt that wasn’t the case,” she recalled.
Christie had ground for her fears earlier on. “As soon as I saw her, I sent someone down to the gift shop to buy a disposable camera,” she said.
Alexxys was badly bruised and was unresponsive when paramedics arrived. Hospital physicians stated that her injuries were consistent with being violently shaken.
Investigators shared the same suspicions as Christie but told her and the family to wait out the process.
They would do all in their power to hold the culprit responsible for this act.
The following time was difficult for the Wright family. The loss of Alexxys and the challenge of staying patient during the investigation weighed on the family. Relationships began to fracture due to the loss, grief, and other stressors included.
For a little girl who “loved to be pretty and have her nails painted,” this loss was immeasurable. Alexxys loved to watch Shrek and pretend to be Princess Fiona, eagerly awaiting the credits to roll so she could “dance and shake her little booty,” as Christie described. That’s a memory she will always treasure.
Fifteen years after Alexxys’s murder, Sonya Wright was arrested and charged with capital murder on April 26, 2018. The Coosa County Cold Case Task Force was able to provide evidence to a grand jury supporting the arrest and charge.
Wright was the aunt of Alexxys and was in the home that Alexxys was staying the night of the incident.
Christie always held out hope for an arrest, but she admits she did question that sometimes. The family struggles with understanding the investigation process and why it took so long to make an arrest. Another source of frustration is one many may not consider – how state and local guidelines may differ in how trials are handled and how the size of the county may affect.
Alexxys Wright was murdered in Equality, Alabama, a small unincorporated town in central Alabama with a population of 1,000. The Coosa County court system is responsible for multiple counties, which creates a different process than most other jurisdictions. Normal setbacks in scheduling and now the Covid-19 situation have continued to push back any court dates that may occur.
Christie has taken to educating herself on how the justice system works, and how it works in their county specifically, to understand the process for capital murder. She has had to hold off on other commitments as she now would have to travel to appear in court and be including throughout the process.
However, the most painstaking aspect of this process was digesting the release of Sonya on bond.
Christie carries an abundance of caution with her. While she is pleased with the start of the process, she knows there is still a lot more to endure. She shares concern over what “happens after all this?”
She understands that the judicial process does not fully equate or guarantee justice – it’s just another obstacle to endure.
If you have any information that could assist in the prosecution of this case, please contact the Coosa County Sheriff’s Office at (256) 377-4922.
Research and Impact
Far too often are a child’s cause of death listed as “undetermined.” The lack of official classification can often hinder the investigator’s ability to prove, without a shadow of a doubt, who is responsible for the murder.
An “undetermined” death classification equates to longer investigations, which delays judicial processes and the identification of a suspect. One reason for this is due to the delay in autopsy results, as medical examiners must often work through a backlog of cases. Adult autopsies take a while, but it was discovered that the Massachusetts medical examiner was taking an average of 242 days to determine a cause in children’s death cases.
Ryan Backmann, founder and executive director for Project: Cold Case, spoke of the systemic failures to protect the youngest, most vulnerable lives. Despite the ongoing investigation, “these people are going to have other children,” Backmann said. Those children are now at risk because their dangerous caregivers were not held responsible.
Per the studies of criminologist James Fox of Northeastern University, Massachusetts investigators have solved 90% of homicides involving children under the age of 11 between the years 2000 and 2013. The clearance rate for older children and adults is considerably lower. However, there were no regional or national recordings for how many of these cleared lead to homicide charges or judicial process.
When a child is murdered, their body can often tell a story. However, it’s the job of the medical examiner to determine if any injuries were accidental, or cause by homicidal or suicidal actions. Furthermore, there is often a need for more investigation, including the assistance of a forensic specialist and a review of preexisting health and wellness.
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