Attorneys give closing arguments in Doisy trial

Friday, January 28, 2011 | 4:22 p.m. CST; updated 5:48 p.m. CST, Monday, January 31, 2011

COLUMBIA — The defense called only three witnesses Friday morning in the murder trial of Johnny Wright, accused in the 1976 presumed slaying of Becky Doisy.

One of those witnesses was Ben White, an investigator for the Boone County prosecuting attorney’s office. He was present on Jan. 21 when the state questioned Harry Moore, Wright's roommate at the time of Doisy's disappearance. Moore said the disappearance of Doisy was a “deep-six situation.” When Moore was asked to clarify, he told prosecutors it was a “six-feet-under situation.”

Wright’s defense attorney Cleveland Tyson became visibly upset, raising his voice as he asked why White never used the words “deep-six situation” in the report he provided Tyson.

“Am I losing my mind?” the attorney muttered under his breath when he looked at White’s report and could not find the phrase.

He challenged White about the omission.

“I don’t put everything in the report that was discussed, as you well know,” White responded.

Finally, the defense called retired Columbia Police Officer Chris Egbert, who testified in the last two days of the trial about his role as the detective originally in charge of the case. Egbert testified that police received at least one telephone threat against Wright shortly after Doisy disappeared — a point Tyson returned to in his closing argument to explain why Wright left Columbia.

But Wright's behavior after Doisy disappeared was the crux of Assistant Prosecutor Richard Hicks' closing argument. Wright has consciousness of guilt, which is “a fancy way of saying guilty people act in certain ways,” Hicks told the jury. Wright went to St. Louis and didn't speak to police until three weeks after Doisy disappeared.

“He leaves the exact night that she goes missing — that’s not a coincidence,” Hicks said. Nor would an innocent person have any reason to take a new name and identity, he said.

In his closing argument, Tyson said it was that kind of circumstantial evidence that formed the flimsy foundation of the prosecution's case. The majority of the state's case relied upon the testimony of Moore, a liar who only spoke to police to wiggle out of his own murder charge, Tyson also said.

“It’s sort of ironic that the state is basing their entire case on a convict,” Tyson said.

Tyson said Wright went to St. Louis because he was afraid of the death threats police were receiving. The three-week gap for Wright to talk to the police could be explained by Wright's need to gather the money he needed to hire an attorney.

Naming each witness, Tyson emphasized that not a single one actually knew what happened to Doisy. The prosecution was trying to get the jury to guess at the guilt of Wright, and a guess cannot be proof beyond a reasonable doubt, he argued.

He also asked the jury to consider that Egbert never considered other possible suspects in the case and developed a kind of "tunnel vision" about Wright.

That was because every “tunnel” led back to him, Hicks said in his rebuttal.

“He left because he knew he had murdered Becky Doisy; he knew that the Columbia Police Department wasn’t going to let it die,” Hicks said.

He also said Moore no longer has any incentive to testify, since the charges against him were dropped long ago, but he did so because he wanted to tell the truth about what happened to Doisy.

“It’s been 34 years. It’s time to bring this to a conclusion one way or another,” Hicks said. “That man, right there — he killed her,” Hicks said, pointing at Wright and concluding the trial.

Jury deliberations began just before 1 p.m.

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