KINGMAN — A Superior Court judge on Monday rejected a plea agreement for a Nevada man accused of blocking traffic on the Hoover Dam bridge.
Matthew Phillip Wright, 32, pleaded guilty in February to making a terrorist threat, aggravated assault and unlawful flight from law enforcement. Charges of terrorism and two weapon charges were dismissed.
Wright’s attorney, Michael Denea, of Phoenix, said his client did not intend to use a firearm. The lone victim on the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Bridge saw a weapon sticking out of a port hole, which was not credible since the port window could not be rolled down, Denea said.
The defense attorney also said that when Wright surrendered to law enforcement, he didn’t pick up a weapon and he surrendered peacefully. Wright had no prior convictions, took responsibility for his actions and showed remorse for his actions. Denea also spoke of Wright’s family support.
Wright’s father also spoke on behalf of his son, saying his son naively thought of himself as a patriot and thought he would spend only a weekend in jail.
Dr. Richard Samuels also testified in court that Wright was a low risk in engaging in a violent behavior and was a low risk in reoffending. He said the country and Arizona have nothing to fear from Wright.
Deputy Mohave County Attorney Bob Moon countered that law enforcement didn’t know what was going on in Wright’s mind.
The prosecutor spoke of a potential for violence with an armored vehicle, numerous weapons including what a 911 caller described as a machine gun, an armored vest and more than 800 rounds of ammunition. Moon asked rhetorically why a peaceful person would have all those weapons.
Superior Court Commissioner Billy Sipe Jr. rejected the sentencing limitations of the plea agreement, which called for seven to 83/4 years in prison for the terrorist threat and unlawful flight charges followed by five years of probation for the aggravated assault charge.
Sipe argued that Wright didn’t go to the bridge just to criticize the government about the truth of the Oct. 1, 2017, Las Vegas mass shooting when he drove an armored vehicle, had multiple weapons, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, a bulletproof vest and a gas mask.
Sipe said he hated to reject plea agreements when he has asked attorneys to resolve cases because of a backlog of jury trials due to the COVID-19 pandemic but said the sentencing limitations in Wright’s plea agreement were too lenient.
Denea then asked for a new judge but Sipe said the Arizona Supreme Court has suspended requests for new judges because of COVID-19. Sipe set the next hearing in Wright’s case for June 15.
Driving a modified armored truck, Wright allegedly blocked traffic June 15, 2018, on the southbound lanes of Highway 93 on the bridge over the Colorado River at Hoover Dam.
Wright later drove the truck south on Highway 93 into Arizona. Avoiding a roadblock, Wright drove the truck onto an unpaved road. The truck finally stopped on the dirt road and the suspect was arrested.
A detective previously testified that there were four weapons in the truck including an AR-15 and Glock pistol, and about eight magazines of 0.223-caliber ammunition. The detective also described a gun port in the door of the truck.