Defense attorney offers glimpse of Johnny Wright's past

Friday, November 6, 2009 | 7:53 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — For years, Johnny Wright didn't know there was a murder charge pending against him, Wright’s attorney said Friday.

“He can’t understand why he’s facing these charges,” St. Louis attorney Cleveland Tyson said. “He’s absolutely innocent.”

Wright, 65, was arrested in Lawrenceville, Ga., in September when he underwent a background check for a job. He faces a decades-old second-degree murder charge in connection with the 1976 disappearance of 23-year-old Becky Doisy.

Wright was in Boone County court Friday for a preliminary hearing, but Boone County Assistant Prosecutor Stephanie Morrell's request for a continuance, to have the hearing later, was granted.

Tyson’s motion to lower Wright’s $100,000 bond was denied by Judge Christine Carpenter.

Wright had settled down to raise a family in Georgia and had children who are now adults, Tyson said. He said Wright spent most of the last two decades living in Georgia, working blue-collar jobs. Wright had moved out of Missouri to get away from the “intense scrutiny he was under” following the Doisy investigation, Tyson said.

Wright was seen having drinks with Doisy at the Heidelberg before she disappeared in 1976. He was the last person seen with her. After Doisy didn’t show up for work the next day, police identified Wright as a primary suspect, interrogated him and gave him a lie detector test.

But charges against Wright weren’t filed until nine years later, in 1985, when police found Wright’s former roommate, Harry Moore, in St. Louis. After police charged Moore in connection with Doisy’s murder, he told them he had seen Doisy's body in the back of Wright’s car. The charges against Moore were dropped, and then-Boone County Prosecutor Joe Moseley filed a charge of second-degree murder against Wright.

But Wright had already left Missouri.

Tyson said in an interview Friday he still knew very few of the details of his client’s case.

“There’s no information in the court files,” Tyson said. “I’m in the dark here.”

Tyson said he expected the Boone County Prosecutor's Office to convene a grand jury to indict Wright. He said he would use the grand jury to learn about the prosecution's evidence. But he hopes it won't get that far.

“I hope they will do the honorable thing and dismiss this thing,” Tyson said.

Wright’s next pretrial hearing was set for 2:30 p.m. Dec. 11.

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