COLUMBIA — Opening statements in Johnny Wright’s murder trial set the scene of Columbia in 1976, blowing 34 years of dust from scraps of evidence and statements about the disappearance and presumed death of Becky Doisy on Aug. 5, 1976.
Wright was 32 when he picked Doisy up to go to the Heidelberg restaurant that night. Doisy, a waitress at then-called Ernie’s Steak House, was 23.
But after that, memories get fuzzy, and witnesses’ statements begin to clash. Doisy was never seen or heard from again, and her body was never found. Wright was charged with second-degree murder in 1985 and picked up on that warrant in September 2009.
In her opening statement, Assistant Prosecutor Cecily Daller recreated for the jury Doisy’s life in Columbia in 1976. She also described the police search for her — and, later, for Wright. She paralleled the story with Wright’s actions: his move to Seattle, then Texas, then Georgia and his confessions to two people during the '70s and '80s.
“Where is Becky Doisy? Where was Johnny Wright?” Daller said to the jury several times, turning her palms toward the ceiling of the half-filled courtroom in the Boone County Courthouse.
Harry Moore was Wright’s roommate in 1976. Both the prosecution and Wright’s defense attorney, Cleveland Tyson, devoted a portion of their opening statements to Moore’s connection with Doisy’s disappearance. It was apparent at the trial Wednesday that Moore likely will be a vital witness in the trial.
In the prosecution's version, Moore was the last person to see Doisy with Wright. He told Columbia Police Officer Chris Egbert in 1985 — nine years after Doisy disappeared — that Wright approached him Aug. 5, 1976, at a club. Wright asked Moore for help and showed him Doisy’s body in his blue Toyota, Daller said.
Tyson refuted that account, saying Moore's story changed depending upon whom he talked to and what was at stake. Moore was facing charges in connection with Doisy’s murder at the time of his confession. He used the story, Tyson said, to buy himself out of the charges.
Tyson’s voice rose as he talked about the most recent version of Moore's story. Friday, Tyson said, was the first time Moore ever mentioned that Wright said anything about Doisy being “six feet under.”
“Moore has changed his story again and again and again,” Tyson said. After saying “and again” several more times, Daller objected, calling Tyson argumentative. Judge Gary Oxenhandler sided with the state.
The state called four witnesses before the lunch break:
- Doisy’s younger sister, Kathy Doisy.
- Doisy’s floormate, Dan Aspenwall.
- Doisy’s friend, Victoria Norman Eisner.
- Doisy’s high school boyfriend.
Each witness, at some point while on the stand, acknowledged having a hard time recalling finer details from 1976. The state used all four witnesses primarily to reinforce that Doisy was last seen with Wright and that she was known as a responsible person who, according to her friends and sister, wouldn't leave Columbia without telling anyone her plans.
Oxenhandler said the trial was likely to end Friday.