Man convicted in 1976 death of waitress

COLUMBIA (AP) — A 66-year-old Georgia grandfather was convicted Friday of killing a Missouri waitress nearly 35 years ago before going into hiding for the next three decades.

Jurors deliberated for about six hours in Columbia before deciding that suburban Atlanta resident Johnny Wright was guilty of second-degree murder in the August 1976 disappearance and death of 23-year-old Rebecca Doisy. The former University of Missouri student’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 2009, after he sought a criminal background check for a job application in Lawrenceville, Ga.

Columbia police said Wright lived under the assumed identity of Errol Edwards for years in Seattle, Texas and most recently Georgia, where he raised a family.

Jurors had to decide whether the circumstantial evidence linking Wright to Doisy overcame the lack of physical evidence, including proof that she died. Wright did not testify at his trial, and his defense attorney called just three witnesses.

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. Another witness said she later ran into Doisy and Wright at the Heidelberg restaurant, a popular hangout near the university campus.

Yet another witness described how Wright, an Ernie’s customer, “badgered” Doisy to go on a date but was rebuffed.

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 the University of Missouri’s education school but dropped out to avoid relocating from Columbia for a student teaching job.

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