‘I think we can provide justice’: Case against accused Mendota serial killer to move to trial


WASHINGTON COUNTY, Va. (WJHL) – The case of a Southwest Virginia man charged with the murders of three women is moving to trial.

James Michael Wright of Mendota was arrested in 2019 after investigators said he admitted to killing all three women, who had been reported missing between Feb. 28 – March 17, 2019.

Washington County, Virginia Commonwealth’s Attorney Josh Cumbow said a case like this one doesn’t happen often.

“In terms of a homicide, unfortunately, that’s not that rare,” Cumbow said. “In terms of what we believe to be a serial killer with multiple victims, that’s very rare.”

Three investigators spoke about the investigation at the preliminary hearing on Thursday morning. They said all three women’s bodies were found in wooded areas with gunshot wounds to the head.

The remains of two of the women, Elizabeth Vanmeter and Joycelyn Alsup, were recovered from shallow graves. The third victim, Athina Hopson, was found in January 2021.

According to court documents obtained in 2019, Wright had originally told authorities that he had dumped the bodies of the victims in the North Fork Holston River. He also said he had met all three women through his job.

Cumbow has been working on the case for two and a half years. After delays due to COVID-19 and new laws being enacted in Virginia, such as abolishing the death penalty, the case is moving again, to the relief of the victims’ families.

“They have to really live with the case because they’ve lost a loved one,” Cumbow said. “Emotions range from just horrible sadness to rage, to anger, to frustration with how long things take in the court system.”

Officers said they conducted an interview with Wright that lasted about seven hours long, in which he said all three of the killings were accidental.

“We’ve got hundreds of photographs detailing various aspects of the case,” Cumbow said.

Wright’s attorney declined to speak on camera Thursday.

“I think we can provide justice in this case,” Cumbow said. “I feel very comfortable with what our evidence is and when this case is ultimately resolved, I think it will be a good outcome.”

A judge decided Thursday that Wright’s case will advance to trial on all nine of the following charges:

  • 3 counts of aggravated murder
  • 3 counts of disposal of a body
  • 3 counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony

The case will be indicted by the next term of the grand jury and a trial date will be set. The next grand jury meeting will be on Tuesday.

A trial date will be set as long as a plea deal is not taken. Cumbow said there have been no talks of one at this time.

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