To save his months-old marriage, Brian Wright must, a judge said Tuesday, end it and then divorce the wife he married earlier so he can legally re-marry the woman he married in May, who accompanied him to court and watched him plead guilty to bigamy.
She left holding his hand.
Wright, 35, was indicted by a Pierre grand jury in June on a charge that on May 8 he committed bigamy, by marrying a woman while he was married to another woman.
“Guilty,” he told state Judge John Brown Tuesday.
Brown granted Wright’s request to suspend the imposition of any prison sentence.
Instead Brown ordered Wright to serve 12 months of supervised probation “and during that time proceed to get your messy affairs in order, including getting a proper divorce.”
When Wright and his new wife obtained a marriage license this spring at the Hughes County Courthouse, the register of deeds office had no way of easily knowing that Wright had previously obtained a marriage license with another woman some years before in the office and whether that earlier marriage was still in legal force.
Deputy Register of Deeds Patty Williams said divorce and annulments are handled at the state level. So county register of deeds offices have no automatic way to know if a marriage license filed in the county represents a still-current marriage, Williams said.
In fact, it wasn’t until Wright’s new wife posted the good news of the wedding on Facebook that it all came out, Williams said.
“His first wife saw the pictures and contacted law enforcement,” Williams said.
A Hughes County Sheriff’s deputy came to the register of deeds office in Pierre to search some records.
In court Tuesday, Judge Brown asked Wright how the bigamy happened.
“I was married prior . . . and I didn’t take care of it in a legal way or anything,” Wright said. “The person I had married had left town and moved away. I made a mistake when I got married again.”
Wright’s attorney, Robert Konrad, told Brown that Wright and his previous–but-still-current wife separated about a year after marrying, that she has lived out of state “for some time,” and is in Bismarck.
Wright pays child support, but not to either of his wives, Konrad told Judge Brown.
“The only other thing is, Mr. Wright has retained me to draw up the necessary legal papers to get an annulment for his second marriage and for me to represent him in his divorce (from his previous wife) to do it in the right way,” Konrad told Judge Brown.
Wright has a steady job and “is just going to work and paying the bills.”
Was he still with his current wife? Brown asked, then paused and said, “I’m not sure if (the marriage) is even legal . . . are you together with her?”
Wright said yes; he had been sitting in court with the woman he married in May.
The couple held hands while following the attorney through the courthouse who will get their marriage annulled.