COLUMBIA — Johnny Wright was expressionless Monday afternoon as he was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the murder of Becky Doisy, a young Columbia woman whose body was never found.
As Wright, 66, stood to be sentenced in a full Boone County courtroom, a crowd gathered for a full docket of other cases turned its attention to him. He looked older and thinner than he had in January, when a jury found him guilty of the second-degree murder.
His goatee and his hair, which used to be trimmed and jet-black, were longer and mostly white. He wore a white-and-black-striped prison suit instead of the charcoal-gray suit and orange tie he wore the last time he stood before Judge Gary Oxenhandler.
Doisy was last seen on Aug. 5, 1976. She was 23.
A warrant for Wright was issued in 1985, charging him with Doisy's murder, but it wasn't until 2009 that he was arrested because he had assumed a new name, Erroll Edwards. It was a background check for a job in Georgia that ultimately ended the deception. He used his real name for the check, which revealed that he was a wanted man.
Doisy's younger sister, Kathy, read a statement to the court through tears Monday, explaining how the loss of her sister sent her parents into a spiral of grief and how she herself suffered survivors' guilt for years.
"If you spend the rest of your life in jail, you and your family will not suffer a single percentage of the misery that you inflicted upon my family and many others," she said, looking at Wright.
Boone County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Richard Hicks asked that Wright be sentenced to life in prison, especially because he lived the last 34 years as a free man.
"He deserves to end his life in prison," Hicks said.
But Oxenhandler denied the request because the sentence was determined by 1976 laws. Hicks then requested the maximum of 30 years.
Wright will be eligible for parole as early as 12 years from now, when he's 78. According to Department of Corrections rules, at age 70 a prisoner is eligible for parole if 40 percent of the sentence has been served.
Wright's attorney, Cleveland Tyson, said he would appeal Wright's conviction.