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Lawrenceville man accused in 1976 slaying appears in court

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- A 65-year-old Georgia man accused of killing a former University of Missouri student more than 30 years ago is a devoted father who ''absolutely'' didn't commit the crime, his attorney said.

Johnny Wright appeared in court Friday for the first time since his arrest in late September after walking into the Lawrenceville Police Department. Wright was seeking a criminal background check to apply for a job as a driver.

He was arrested more than two decades after Boone County prosecutors charged him with second-degree murder in the death of 23-year-old waitress Rebecca Doisy. The woman disappeared in August 1976, and her body has never been found.

''He had nothing to do with Ms. Doisy's disappearance,'' said defense attorney Cleveland Tyson Jr. ''The only thing my client has been doing for the past 30 years is working and raising a family.''

Tyson said Wright has two adult children and is also a grandfather. Wright moved away from Columbia in the late 1970s and was not aware of the outstanding warrant, his lawyer said. Wright relocated ''because of the scrutiny'' of being a suspect, not to avoid arrest, according to Tyson.

''He felt it was best to relocate and get a fresh start,'' Tyson said in an interview after the brief court hearing. ''He wasn't trying to escape prosecution.''

Wright's case was delayed until Dec. 11 to allow prosecutors to continue collecting evidence and attempt to find possible witnesses. He remains at the Boone County Jail after Associate Circuit Judge Christine Carpenter denied Tyson's request to lower a $100,000 bond.

Wright, who wore glasses, handcuffs and a gray goatee, did not speak at his court appearance. A woman identified by Tyson as a family member from Atlanta attended the hearing but declined to comment.

Assistant prosecutor Richard Hicks did not immediately respond to a request for comment after the hearing.

Wright's arrest stunned Doisy's family members, who said they were told by police a decade ago that he had possibly fled the country or died. The detective who worked the initial case and the prosecutor who issued the warrant are long retired.

Doisy's co-workers at Ernie's Steak House had said that Wright -- a former convict from St. Louis who had been arrested a dozen times and spent time in prison for burglary -- badgered her for a date but was rebuffed.

A resident of Doisy's apartment complex reported seeing her leave with Wright the day she went missing.

And Wright's former roommate, Harry Moore, told Columbia police he had seen Doisy's body in Wright's car. Prosecutors initially charged Moore with murder before he implicated Wright.

''He fabricated (information) in order to curry favor with the authorities,'' Tyson said, referring to Moore.

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.