COLUMBIA, Missouri -- A jury has begun deliberations in the trial of a grandfather charged with killing a waitress in Missouri nearly 35 years ago before going into hiding for more than three decades.
Johnny Wright, who had been living in suburban Atlanta, is accused of second-degree murder in the August 1976 disappearance and presumed death of 23-year-old Rebecca Doisy, a former University of Missouri student. Doisy's body was never found.
Wright was charged with murder in 1985 after an acquaintance said Wright admitted killing Doisy. He wasn't arrested until late 2009 after he sought a criminal background check for a job application at the Lawrenceville, Georgia, police department.
Columbia police say that Wright lived under the assumed identity of Errol Edwards for years in Seattle, Texas and most recently Georgia, where he raised a family.
Boone County jurors will have to decide whether the circumstantial evidence linking Wright to Doisy overcomes the lack of proof that she died and other physical evidence. Wright did not testify at his trial.
Several of Doisy's friends and co-workers at Ernie's Steak House testified that Wright was with Doisy the day she went missing. A resident of her apartment building reported seeing her leave with Wright.
Yet another witness described how Wright, an Ernie's customer, "badgered" Doisy to go on a date but was rebuffed. And William Simmons, who spent time in a St. Louis methadone clinic with Wright in the years following Doisy's disappearance, testified that Wright bragged about "offing" a woman in Columbia when several other patients were boasting of their role in a St. Louis killing. His account to Columbia police following a burglary arrest in suburban St. Louis led to charges being filed 26 years ago
Defense lawyer Cleveland Tyson told jurors during closing arguments that Wright, a St. Louis native, fled Missouri because he received death threats after being identified as a suspect in Doisy's disappearance.
"He didn't want to come back to Columbia because he was scared," Tyson said.
Doisy was the granddaughter of Edward A. Doisy, who shared the 1943 Nobel Prize in medicine with another researcher for their discovery of vitamin K. A research building at St. Louis University, where he taught, is named after the scientist.
She completed three years at Missouri's education school but dropped out to avoid relocating from Columbia for a student teaching job.
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