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Twins' identity switch trips federal hearing

North Little Rock man ordered held in gun case by Dale Ellis | March 4, 2021 at 6:44 a.m.

In a hearing that bogged down at times over claims of mistaken identity to the point that even the lawyers in the courtroom had trouble keeping straight who was who, a North Little Rock man facing a federal charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm was ordered jailed until his case is resolved.

The confusion rose from the fact that the defendant, Tommy Windell Wright, 24, often uses the name of his identical twin brother, Tony Windell Wright, who, North Little Rock police detective Michael Gibbons testified Wednesday, is also known to police as a result of his criminal record.

Gibbons said Tony Wright has also used his Tommy Wright's name in the past when questioned by police, to the point that the department keeps both brothers' photos and fingerprints on file for comparison to enable newer officers to confirm which brother they may be dealing with at any given time.

That confusion fueled a challenge put forward by Cara Boyd Connors, Tommy Wright's attorney, that her client, rather than being felon, was more likely a victim of mistaken identity.

Despite the confusion, U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia Harris ruled that Tommy Wright who appeared via video conference link from the Pulaski County jail, would have to remain in jail until his case is resolved.

According to an affidavit filed in federal court, Tommy Wright was a passenger in a car stopped by North Little Rock police on Jan. 26, and, when questioned, gave his name as Tony Wright, which police discovered was not true by obtaining a photo of Tony Wright from the Arkansas Crime Information Center. After Tommy Wright admitted his true identity, the affidavit said, police discovered an outstanding arrest warrant from North Little Rock and a Lorcin .380-caliber pistol in the car, which Tommy Wright later admitted was in his possession.

He also admitted his involvement in a shooting incident Aug. 31 at the North Little Rock home of Gina Lathan, who was identified as the mother of Tommy Wright's girlfriend, Brittany Baltimore, also of North Little Rock.

Baltimore told police at the time that Lathan and Tommy Wright had gotten into a fight, the affidavit said, and that Tommy Wright left after saying he would be back. Baltimore told police that when he returned, he fired several shots into the house, which was occupied by several people, including minors, then fled when Lathan returned fire.

The affidavit said that Tommy Wright admitted to the shooting but told police he fired at Lathan after she came out of the house and fired at him. No one was hurt in the incident.

On Jan. 28, 11 days after his arrest, according to court records, Tommy Wright was again arrested after a traffic stop by North Little Rock police and charged with possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver and simultaneous possession of drugs and firearms. Baltimore was also arrested on misdemeanor charges of obstructing governmental operations and disorderly conduct in that incident.

Under Connors' questioning, Gibbons acknowledged that a 2015 felony third-degree domestic battery arrest of Tommy Wright, for which he was convicted in Pulaski County Circuit Court, was complicated by Wright's refusal to give his correct name, but said his involvement was later confirmed by Baltimore.

"When he was arrested he provided the name Tony Wright," Gibbons said. "Brittany Baltimore came to the detective division as part of that investigation -- this was several days later -- and said she didn't want to prosecute him and also admitted to detectives that Tommy had provided the false name of Tony Wright when he was arrested, which obviously at the time [of the arrest] she did not correct."

Gibbons said that Tommy Wright finally admitted his identity and pleaded guilty to the domestic battery charge but he said the resulting confusion managed to carry over into the court records.

Gibbons said a fingerprint examiner from the Little Rock Police Department was brought in to examine all of the arrests of the two brothers and to confirm who was connected to which offense, and he said that he had collected photos taken of the two brothers anytime either was arrested.

"Luckily," he said, "photograph-wise you can tell the difference because Tommy has two distinct marks on his face that Tony does not."

"Based on your knowledge of Tommy and Tony Wright, is it common that Tommy gives his twin brother's name when he encounters law enforcement?" asked Benecia Moore, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case.

"For years," he said, "they've used each other's names."

On cross examination, Connors said that because Gibbons was not present at the arrests he testified to, he would not be likely to know which brother was arrested for any given offense, zeroing in on Tommy Wright's 2015 domestic battery arrest.

"You weren't present at any of these arrests involving Mr. Wright, were you?" she asked.

"No ma'am, I was not," Gibbons replied.

"So you don't know if it was Tony or Tommy or who it was," Connors countered. "Personally, you have no personal knowledge, is that correct?"

"I wasn't present, that's correct," Gibbons confirmed.

"So what pleadings say Tony?" asked Connors.

"Tommy, you mean," Gibbons corrected her.

The confusion between the two men's names and who was connected to what offense managed to trip up both attorneys, at one point eliciting a brief laugh from Gibbons and even Harris appeared to be trying to suppress a chuckle underneath her mask.

Connors, despite asking for her client to be released either to the custody of Baltimore, to his mother, or to an inpatient substance abuse facility, appeared to recognize that any release option was unlikely.

"Is there any creative alternative the court would allow us to investigate regarding chem free living or inpatient treatment?" she asked, noting that her client currently has only been charged by the federal complaint but was not yet indicted on the charge.

Moore said no release option would meet with the government's approval.

"It's the government's position that Mr. Wright is a danger to the community," she said, referencing his arrests 11 days apart in the weapon possession case and the August 2020 shooting incident.

"There are no conditions or combination of conditions I can impose that will satisfy me of the safety of the community," Harris said. "The firing of a firearm into a residence in which there are several people, including minors, I just can't get past that."

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