COLUMBIA — After 34 years of false hopes and anxiety, family and friend's of Becky Doisy finally experienced an emotion they weren't sure would ever come — closure.
Johnny Wright was found guilty Friday evening in the 1976 disappearance and presumed murder of Doisy.
When the verdict was read, Doisy’s younger sister, Kathy Doisy, broke into tears. Her husband hugged her hard as she sobbed into his shoulder.
Wright showed no emotion immediately after the verdict was read.
The jury deliberated for six hours.
Doisy disappeared on Aug. 5, 1976. Witnesses testified to seeing Wright with Doisy on that day. Her body was never found.
Because Wright was ruled a prior offender at a pre-trial hearing for a 1973 burglary charge, Judge Gary Oxenhandler will decide the sentence. That must take place sometime in the next six weeks. Wright faces 10 to 30 years in prison.
“I have to thank Harry Moore and William Simmons because if they wouldn’t have done that (testified), it couldn’t have happened,” Kathy Doisy said outside the courtroom.
Moore and Simmons both testified for the prosecution. They said Wright admitted to them that he killed Doisy and got rid of her body. Their statements to police in 1985 ultimately gave authorities enough evidence to issue the warrant for Wright’s arrest.
Wright, 66, was nowhere to be found when the warrant was finally issued, and he evaded authorities for 24 years. Records indicated he lived under the alias “Errol Edwards” from 1981 to 2007. For most of that time, he lived in Lawrenceville, Ga., where he was arrested in September 2009 after applying for a job using his real name. A background check for the job turned up the warrant.
His arresting officer in Georgia testified that Wright said, “OK,” and sat down when told of the outstanding warrant from Boone County.
Several friends of Doisy stayed for the verdict, including Mort Meman, who was her boyfriend from 1972 to 1974.
“I saved all the love letters she ever gave me,” Meman said after the verdict. He said Doisy was his first love and, even after she disappeared, had a huge impact on his life.
After the verdict was read and the jury had left the courtroom, Boone County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Richard Hicks asked that Wright be taken into custody and that his bond be raised from $100,000, which was set in 1985, to $1 million, cash only. Hicks said Wright was a “flight risk.” Wright is due in court in St. Louis next week for a probation violation from 1978.
Defense Attorney Cleveland Tyson argued that Wright could be trusted because he came to all his scheduled hearings and was completely cooperative after his arrest.
However, Oxenhandler agreed with the state, and Wright — wearing a charcoal colored suit, a cream colored shirt and dark orange tie — was handcuffed.
An unidentified woman accompanied Wright each day of the trial. She waited for him outside the courtroom during each recess and carried his coat for him while he sat between his attorneys. As she watched the trial, she was expressionless.
Wright was similarly inexpressive until he was being escorted out of the courtroom by marshals. Looking back over his shoulder, he mouthed something to the woman and her face twitched a little, but she said nothing.
As Kathy Doisy and her sister’s supporters hugged and shook hands, the woman could be heard crying down the hallway. She left the courthouse carrying Wright’s coat in her arms.
Tyson said the woman asked that her identity and relation to Wright not be revealed. Tyson and his colleague had no comment on the verdict.
Columbia Police Detective Chris Egbert, who led the search for Doisy and kept an eye on the case until he retired in 1993, was called to the stand four times during the four-day trial. He said he felt some closure after the verdict.
“It was the only case I had that wasn’t brought to some kind of justice,” Egbert said. “My only regret is that we never found a body.”