Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Family of Winnfred Wright

The Trial

At their arraignment on February 11, 2002, at the Marin County Courthouse, members of The Family arrived wearing prison orange jumpsuits with their wrists and ankles shackled.  Campbell and Wilson were obviously pregnant, and while not yet visibly showing, Polk was also pregnant with her first child by Wright.

The head mother, Bremner, appeared in court bald and wearing a surgery mask.

The defendants' lawyers told reporters that The Family loved its children and fed them a low-fat, vegetarian diet that they viewed as healthier. Their only mistake, the defense attorneys argued, was to not seek medical care for Ndigo earlier, due to their suspicion of mainstream medicine.

The prosecution debunked that notion when a graphic video showing the children's plight was shown in the courtroom, the result of years of malnutrition.

In it, a 2-year-old boy with rickets who could not walk or talk cried incessantly from pain and scooted around the floor on his bottom. The video also showed a 5-year-old with rickets whose legs were so knock-kneed that he struggled to walk. A 4-year-old boy's arms and legs were also grotesquely bowed and winced from pain when a doctor asked him to hop on one foot.

Medical check-ups of the children found that all were malnourished and some had rickets. Two of the children had to have their bones broken and reset to correct their deformities, which experts said were caused by malnutrition as well as lack of activity and sunlight.

Winnfred Wright in court
Winnfred Wright in court
The judge, Terrence Borden, called Wright "paranoid, sadistic and contemptuous of society at large."

A weeping Wilson stood up and told the judge that she was a psychological amputee, but the prosecution noted that she told her 12-year-old boy to punish the other children and had written at least one entry in the "Book of Rules."

  • Wright, who was initially charged with second-degree murder but accepted a plea bargain and pled guilty to felony child abuse, was sentenced to 16 years and eight months in prison, the maximum term for the charge.
  • Deidre Wilson, who bore six of Wright's children, pled guilty to five counts of felony child abuse and was sentenced to seven years and four months in prison.
  • Mary Campbell, the mother of Ndigo and six others, received a 10-year-sentence.
  • Carol Bremner, the head mother who bore Wright's two oldest daughters, died of leukemia in custody.
  • Kali Polk-Matthews, the youngest recruit, escaped unscathed. Initial charges of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment against her were dropped and she is now living in San Francisco with her mother and raising her son.
  • The judge permitted both Wilson and Campbell to attend a four-week cult-deprogramming center in Ohio before being transferred to prison. They and Wright have lost all their parental rights and are not allowed to communicate with their children or one another.
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