Between Love and the Law

He was a criminal. She was a crime fighter. Their relationship would cost them both dearly

"Just two people who happened to live on different sides of the fence? On the wrong sides of the law? ... We never broke one law. Her and I never did any wrong. ... This is a Cinderella story."

Two images come to mind, so aligned by fate and headlines: The heavily tattooed mugshot with a 1,000-yard stare, and the bodybuilding pose, bronzed and bikini-clad with a 1,000-watt smile. Strip away the drug haze and the gangster bravado. Strip the spray tan and taut confidence. Strip off the lengthy criminal history. Then strip away the promising legal career.

Strip away the sensational news reports. And the federal indictments, the internal investigations and the guilty pleas.

Strip everything, save two weary hearts, once fluttering with excitement — now bitter with resentment and shame.

Former Spokane County deputy prosecutor Marriya Wright appears tired and shaken in court last November. For the first time, she sits in the defendant's seat as she admits to rendering criminal assistance to repeated felon Matthew Baumrucker.

"Knowing what I know now, I would have made different choices," Wright tells the judge. "But again, I don't believe that anyone is without worth, that anybody is without value, including Mr. Baumrucker."

The scandal has cost Wright nearly everything. It has ended her work with the Prosecutor's Office. It has strained the trust of her family and friends. Meanwhile, Baumrucker has returned to the prison system, awaiting sentencing on a federal gun charge.

Just two people seeking comfort and understanding across the divides of the law and social expectations. Authorities found no evidence of a sexual relationship, as many have assumed. But investigative records reflect an intense and intimate friendship in which Wright and Baumrucker shared their every dream, misery and secret.

What would you do if you recognized yourself, your own pain and aimlessness, in someone else? Would you try to save them? Even if it meant turning into them?

Even if it meant losing yourself?

Between Love and the Law
One of Marriya Wright's letters to Matthew Baumrucker; she opened a P.O. box after her bosses discovered earlier correspondence.

"It is not often that you meet someone in life and feel the connection that we do. When it does happen, I think you need to keep those people close to you, and I intend to do that with you." — Wright letter to Baumrucker, March-April 2014

Baumrucker's stark mugshot shows faded, ink-black teardrops cascading from the corner of his right eye. Above both eyebrows, Baumrucker bears tattoos, reading "West" and "Side." The gang affiliation "74 Hoover Crips" runs ear to ear across his cheeks while jagged graphics crisscross the front of his neck.

And cresting his shaved scalp, like a prison tiara atop his forehead, he carries the label "Criminal" in bold cursive lettering.

Baumrucker, 31, known on the street as "Laylow," has spent most of his life in and out of the criminal justice system. His records list his first felony conviction in 1998 at age 14 for theft and indecent exposure. In the years since, his criminal history has expanded into drug and gun crimes, money laundering, malicious mischief, vehicle theft, harassment, assault and robbery.

"I have made a lot of mistakes in life and I'm far from perfect," he writes to a judge in 2013. "I have had a very ruff life growing up with no one in life to turn too, a lot of wich has been the reason for my troubles, but it's no excuse for my actions."

Multiple women, including the mother of one of his two children, have previously filed for protection orders against him after he threatened and beat them. Court records indicate one woman filed assault charges after Baumrucker broke out several of her teeth in 2012. Other women report he forced them into prostitution and robbery schemes.

But friends say Baumrucker has a thoughtful side. He would help make dinner, share music he loved and draw pictures. A woman, who asked to be identified only as Ann, says Baumrucker could be a kind and loyal, though unpredictable, friend.

"He was the nicest guy in the world," she says. "[But] you never knew what guy you were going to get."

Ann says Baumrucker never felt wanted or loved. He grew up near Seattle and went into the system at a young age. His mother and sister cut off contact long ago. He once told a court evaluator he had mostly lived off public assistance and criminal exploits. Drugs and mental health issues, which he self-reported as bipolar disorder, contributed to other run-ins with the law. When he stayed with her, Ann says, he often stole her car or credit cards.

"I love him, but I hate him," she says. "He's a broken soul."

Baumrucker came into her life when she felt alone and unsteady, she says. Despite all the times he took advantage of her, Ann says she became fiercely protective of him. Eventually, friends had to step in to protect her from him.

"He groomed me well," she says now. "He hit me at a pretty vulnerable spot. [And] he knew what to say."

"I'm deeply sorry for all the trouble I've caused in this town and with God I'm ready for a new life. God causes all things to work together for good for those who love him & are called to his purposes." — Baumrucker, October 2013

Between Love and the Law photos
A photo of bikini-clad Marriya Wright was found in Matthew Baumrucker's jail cell.

Marriya Wright, 35, also balances two distinct personalities: The buttoned-down attorney who charged domestic violence and property crime cases for the Spokane County Prosecutor's Office. And the bodybuilding champion driven toward form and fitness.

Tabloids and gossip sites have pounced on the flashy imagery of Wright's bodybuilding career, publishing darkly tanned and scantily clad photos from her appearances in competitions as recently as last year.

Wright declined to comment for this story, but her attorney Milt Rowland says behind both personas lies a compassionate Christian faith that has anchored her actions.

"Marriya's a very devout Christian," Rowland says. "Jesus... associated with the lepers and the criminals and the outcasts."

Rowland says he previously taught Wright as a law student at Gonzaga University prior to her graduation in 2003. An online profile states Wright earned her undergraduate degree from California State University-Chico. Rowland describes her as caring to a fault and a little naive at times. He notes that she has struggled to cope with the past year.

Wright tells investigators she first met Baumrucker on a case in Spokane County District Court in 2010. Court records show she prosecuted him for violating a protection order. He got 90 days in jail with credit for time served.

Rowland says investigators have reviewed and audited that case without finding any indication of wrongdoing or bias.

Investigators say Wright later acknowledged that Baumrucker first sent her a letter after the 2010 case, but she did not respond. In 2013, he sent her additional letters, asking her to put him in touch with someone from her church. Wright told investigators no one else would go, so she decided to visit him herself.

"Everything Ms. Wright did, she did as a Christian," Rowland says, "hoping to bring someone who had reached out into the flock. ... She was just trying to help bring one of God's children into the fold."

Wright told investigators she met with Baumrucker during a difficult time in her life. She and her husband had struggled through a complicated effort to adopt a 15-year-old Bulgarian girl, fraying nerves and upending their home life. Wright felt alone and unsteady. Baumrucker provided a captive and sympathetic ear.

"Wright considered Baumrucker a safe, non-judgmental harbor," investigators report, "with whom she could discuss [her] emotional turmoil and tension."

"Sometimes when we talk I feel like you can see all the way inside my head and that you already know my thoughts. It's kinda weird. I can usually hide them pretty well from most people, but I can't hide them from you. How do you do that?" — Wright, April 2014

A black 9mm handgun, pulled during an early morning dispute, unraveled everything. Spokane Police Department reports state a man had recently accused Baumrucker of pimping out his cousin against her will. When Baumrucker spotted the man at a Tesoro gas station on March 3, 2014, Baumrucker allegedly rammed the man's car and then threatened him with the pistol.

As Baumrucker fled to a nearby apartment, the man called police, reports state. In a panic, Baumrucker dialed Wright. Investigators say witnesses overheard Wright offering him legal advice. She reportedly told him that he did not have to open the door for police if they came to the apartment.

Police officers soon knocked, but Baumrucker and the others hid. Wanted on an outstanding warrant and illegally armed with a handgun, Baumrucker needed help. Investigators say he called Wright for a ride out of the neighborhood.

Since their 2013 meeting in the jail, Baumrucker had continued to send letters to Wright's office, asking for guidance and sharing his feelings. Investigators say Wright's supervisors at the Prosecutor's Office discovered these early letters and reprimanded her for having improper contact with defendants outside her case assignments.

So instead she gave Baumrucker her cellphone number, records state. Upon his release later that year, the two started text messaging each other daily. Detectives later counted about 1,280 text exchanges between them over the next few months, reportedly sharing secrets and wishing each other sweet dreams.

Wright went on to meet with Baumrucker in person several times during his release, witnesses say. Reports indicate their relationship turned physical at least once, with multiple statements acknowledging kissing or making out in her vehicle.

"I'm happy we got the chance to get to know each other while you were out," she writes him later. "You should have called me sooner!"

Witnesses report that Baumrucker returned to the Tesoro parking lot at about 8:30 am on March 3 and climbed into a dark red SUV. A week later, authorities cornered Baumrucker at a Spokane Valley motel. A woman tells investigators Baumrucker again called Wright for help. And she convinced him to surrender.

Police reports state that officers found the black 9mm pistol on an air-conditioning unit just outside Baumrucker's motel window. Spokane detectives following up on the case soon start hearing rumors of Baumrucker having a "prosecutor in his back pocket," an attorney friend named Mary or Mariah. His friends say he texts her all the time.

When investigators go back to check the surveillance video from the Tesoro parking lot, they see Baumrucker climbing into a red Mercury Mariner, registered to Marriya Wright.

"Sometimes when I talk to you or read your letters, I would swear that we must have been best friends/soulmates/whatever you want to call it and I'm sure great lovers too in a past life or something. I never really believed in that kind of thing before, but something about you is always so familiar." — Wright, April 2014

Spokane County Jail records show Wright visited Baumrucker at least 10 times in the weeks after his arrest on March 12, 2014. Investigators say she listed the nature of her visits as "professional," allowing her to meet Baumrucker in the attorney-client booth, which has more privacy and includes a slot in the glass to exchange paperwork.

After weeks of constant text messaging, investigative files indicate Wright used these visits to catch up on Baumrucker's company and deliver letters. She also opened a P.O. box to hide his letters to her. Wright's letters from this time provide a glimpse into the extreme vulnerability and intimacy they shared during their brief relationship.

"The one good thing that has come from you getting in so much trouble is that I've had the chance to get to know you," she writes. "You are beautiful inside and out, and even though you've had a rough life and made some bad choices, you still have such a good heart. ... All my love to you, Marriya."

In the letters, Wright often shares encouraging words and praise. She also vents about her frustrations with family or the legal system. Some letters include soft lecturing while others wander through sappy romantic reminiscing. She calls him "Sweets." He even put together a music playlist for her to listen to without him called "Laylow's Mix."

"It makes my heart stop every time I hear it — it makes me miss you a lot," she writes of Yelawolf's song "Write Your Name."

One letter implies Baumrucker had asked her to sneak things into the jail for him, but she refused. Another letter suggests Wright worked to insert herself into Baumrucker's latest case by discussing legal strategy with his defense attorney.

"Anyway, I hope [your attorney] comes to see you soon and that you get along with her since I picked her to represent you," Wright's letter states. "She's brilliant at defense, so I believe you are in good hands. I wish it was me representing you, but I guess that won't happen this time around — and hopefully there won't be a next time!"

But Wright begins to distance herself from Baumrucker in later letters. She still treasures his friendship, she writes, but she loves her husband and has to do what's best for her family.

"I want you to know that all those things you wrote in your letter — all of those things you want to do and experience — I want those things too," she writes. "If we had met at a different time and if circumstances were different, I would make those things happen."

At some point, Wright gives Baumrucker a photo from one of her bodybuilding contests. She smiles proudly in the picture, wearing a bikini and holding a trophy. Baumrucker puts it by his jail bunk. Before long, a corrections officer recognizes Wright and investigators seize the photo, along with a number of letters and other evidence.

"Marriya is a pure wolf in sheep's clothing. ... I sit here heart broken and federally indicted [while] Marriya is getting a paid leave of absence." — Baumrucker, August 2014

As the pieces start to come together, the Prosecutor's Office places Wright on administrative leave in April, pending the outcome of the investigation. Detectives compile the photo, the letters, the text messages, the surveillance video, the jail records and other evidence. They also question Baumrucker's friends and associates about Wright.

Baumrucker's friends say his relationship with Wright made them uncomfortable. One woman tells investigators it felt "not right" — a criminal and a prosecutor? They exchanged affectionate messages often, witnesses report. Sometimes Baumrucker would show off the sappy messages, but other times he would brag about how he could use her.

"He's very manipulative," Baumrucker's friend Ann says. "He's very criminal. ... [Wright] served a purpose."

FBI investigators interrogate Wright in late April. She tells the agents Baumrucker had asked her to rent vehicles for him and requested the names of local police informants, but she refused to do so. She also notes she had helped convince him to surrender.

Baumrucker eventually makes the relationship public by sending a letter to KREM 2 News, calling his connection with Wright a "Cinderella story." The station reports Baumrucker felt "punished and violated" by the system.

"What's the crime in that?" he writes to the TV station. "Just two people who happened to live on different sides of the fence? On the wrong sides of the law? ... We never broke one law. Her and I never did any wrong."

But by late August, his affections sour. He writes additional letters to the station, lamenting the relationship. He calls himself a victim. He describes Wright as a "wolf in sheep's clothing."

"Marriya used me mentally and emotionally," he writes.

National and international media jump on the story: The star-crossed prosecutor and thug, the bodybuilder and the bad boy, the irony and absurdity. Photos of Baumrucker and Wright make the New York Daily News, the Huffington Post and countless blogs. Wright's attorney Rowland says national TV shows have offered her thousands of dollars to share her story.

"She's just basically hiding from them," Rowland says. "This is just so incredibly painful."

In early September, Wright resigns from the Prosecutor's Office. Stepping in as a third party, the state Attorney General's Office files misdemeanor charges for rendering criminal assistance in October. She pleads guilty to the charge in November.

"No matter what any prosecutor/cop/or any other person ever says or thinks about you, you are precious and valuable. ... Maybe that's why — one reason anyway — God connected us, because we share a lot of feelings. I know we have very different lifestyles, but we're still humans and have the same feelings." — Wright to Baumrucker, April 2014

At her sentencing hearing on Nov. 25, Wright takes her seat at the defendant's table. She wears a black rain jacket and leans into the microphone to make her statement before the court. A group of family and friends sits behind her.

"I wish that I had made a different choice that day," she says. "I shouldn't have given him a ride. ... I have a huge heart for people and animals that have nobody. I guess I'm a magnet for outcasts."

The judge hands down a one-year suspended sentence and orders her to complete 60 hours of community service.

Rowland says he expects officials with the Washington State Bar Association to decide in the next couple of weeks whether they will try to revoke Wright's license to practice law. Rowland says a settlement or sanction could allow her to continue her law career in some fashion.

Baumrucker pleaded guilty last month to charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Court records state he will appear for sentencing in May. He faces five to seven years in prison.

As Baumrucker awaits judgment, his friend Ann argues that the system turned him into the menace he has become.

"I think society did that man a disservice," she says. "He was broken by us. ... He never felt wanted by anything."

Except — for a short and intense time — by a sympathetic deputy prosecutor who quickly discovered she could not save him without losing herself.

"I wish I could fix all your problems for you and send you out a new man, but I know I can't fix everything. I don't know why God brought us together, but I will pour as much good into you as I can."

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About The Author

Jacob Jones

Staff writer Jacob Jones covers criminal justice, natural resources, military issues and organized labor for the Inlander.