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An empty seat at the table: Daunte Wright’s family struggles with the pain of losing a son and brother

Every Sunday, they gather around the table at the Wright family home — Katie and Arbuey Wright, the seven children they share between them, along with grandmas and aunts and uncles and friends.

Plates piled high with dishes like fried chicken or “Rasta pasta” are passed around by the family where the weekly Sunday dinner has endured as a cherished tradition.

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The Bryant and Wright family gather along with friends on Thanksgiving.

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

But on a Sunday afternoon last April, a single bullet disrupted that weekly gathering.

Daunte Wright, the oldest son of Katie and Arbuey, was shot and killed by a Brooklyn Center, Minn., police officer after he was pulled over for expired tags and an air freshener hanging from his car’s rearview mirror.

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Kimberly Potter, who later resigned from the force, claimed she mistakenly fired her gun instead of her Taser as she tried to keep the 20-year-old Black man from fleeing as officers tried to arrest him on an outstanding warrant on a weapons charge.

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Diamond Wright and Destinee Wright embrace their niece Luna Bryant during a Sunday dinner at their home in October.

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Right around the time she would normally be cooking Sunday dinner on that April day, Katie Wright was instead standing on a cold Brooklyn Center street, staring at the body of her son on the ground near his car.

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

She recognized him by his tennis shoes peeking out from beneath a white sheet. She bit the inside of her cheeks until they were bloody and scarred trying to wake up from what she hoped was a nightmare.

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Destinee Wright lies on the floor next to a cardboard cutout and paintings of Daunte Wright.

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

In the months since Wright’s killing, the Sunday dinners have resumed — an empty seat at the table where Daunte once sat, as the family has struggled to cope with his absence and prepare for the trial over his death.

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Diamond Wright tries a pasta dish her mother Katie Wright prepared for Sunday dinner.

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Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Alayna Albrecht-Payton gets emotional as she stands next to the urn of her boyfriend Daunte Wright.

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

A maroon and gold urn with his ashes sits on a mantel above the fireplace. His mother carried it to an October gathering to mark what would have been Daunte’s 21st birthday, where friends touched it and tearfully cried out for justice.

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Albrecht-Payton wipes away tears after standing next to Wright’s urn.

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Daunte Wright’s friend Emajay Driver holds balloons as he celebrates what would have been Wright’s 21st birthday.

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Destinee Wright holds her phone as she takes a selfie with her sister Diamond Wright in front of a cardboard cutout of their brother Daunte Wright during an event to mark what would have been his 21st birthday.

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Daunte’s older brother Damik Bryant is reflected in the rearview mirror in his vehicle as he watches protesters outside the Hennepin County Government Center after the first day of jury selection in the Potter trial.

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Jury selection in the Potter trial began Nov. 30, with opening statements on Dec. 8 at a downtown Minneapolis courthouse. Potter was tried in the same courtroom where a jury in April convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin of murder and manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd — a decision that came just days after Wright’s death.

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Diamond Wright, Katie Wright and Daunte Wright’s grandmother Angie Gholson prepare to leave their home to attend the trial for Kim Potter.

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Emajay Driver, left, Damik Bryant, Diamond Wright and Destinee Wright, right, walk with family attorney Jeff Storms to the Hennepin County Government Center.

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

The Wright family gathered daily inside a room two floors above the courtroom where Potter was tried on first- and second-degree manslaughter charges in Wright’s killing.

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Diamond Wright hugs protester Tanya James outside the Hennepin County Government Center during a recess in the opening arguments of the Potter trial.

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

They watched every minute of the proceedings on a closed-circuit television screen, crying as body-camera video replayed Wright’s death again and again for a jury.

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Katie Wright is consoled as she watches opening arguments in the Potter trial with her husband Arbuey Wright.

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Nearly every day, Katie Wright took a seat in the courtroom just feet away from Potter, who later cried on the stand as she recalled firing the fatal shot into Daunte Wright’s chest, a bullet that went through his heart.

It was the first time she had seen the woman who killed her son in person.

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The Rev. Jeanette Rupert prays with Damik Bryant before the start of jury selection.

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Emajay Driver, Wright’s close friend, sleeps during a recess in the Potter trial.

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Diamond Wright and her mother Katie Wright pray after the Potter trial was turned over to the jury for deliberation on Dec. 20.

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Seated in the back of the courtroom, Katie Wright stared at the women who killed her son, often with tears running down her face.

Potter, whose attorneys blamed Daunte Wright for causing his own death, turned away, deliberately avoiding her gaze.

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Daunte Wright’s family and friends hold hands and pray after the Potter trial was turned over to the jury for deliberation.

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Aubrey Wright, father of Daunte Wright, looks up as he watches a use-of-force expert testify.

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Damik Bryant places his arm around his sister Diamond Wright after becoming emotional watching the Potter trial.

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

After eight days of testimony and a half-day of closing arguments, the jury began deliberating the case on Monday. Upstairs, the family waited for a verdict, praying and hoping for justice. But they already knew that no verdict would bring Daunte back. The seat at the Sunday night dinner table would remain empty.

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Damik Bryant and his two sisters Destinee Wright and Diamond Wright attend a protest for their brother Daunte Wright outside the Hennepin County Government Center.

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

On Dec. 23, after roughly 27 hours of deliberations, a jury found Potter guilty.

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Diamond Wright, from left, the Rev. Jeanette Rupert, Destinee Wright and Kamara McGill react after the guilty verdict.

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Potter, who will be sentenced in February, faces at least 11 years in prison.

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An emotional Angie Gholson, right, grandmother of Daunte Wright, hugs Joy Garcia after the guilty verdict.

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Katie Wright hugs Joy Garcia as Diamond Wright hugs her father Arbuey Wright after the guilty verdict.

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Family and friends release balloons to mark what would have been Daunte Wright’s 21st birthday in October.

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

Joshua Lott/The Washington Post

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Photo editing by Karly Domb Sadof