DNA testing confirms guilt in 1987 sexual assault near the Plaza

03/14/2014 9:22 PM

03/14/2014 9:22 PM

Pete Wright always denied that he sexually assaulted a woman near the Country Club Plaza in 1987.

From prison, where he is serving a 30-year sentence, he fought for and won the chance to have DNA testing that could vindicate him.

On Friday, Jackson County prosecutors announced the test result: It confirmed Wright’s guilt.

A Jackson County jury convicted Wright, now 50, on charges of forcible sodomy and felonious restraint for the September 1987 attack in which a 21-year-old Lee’s Summit woman was dragged into a Brush Creek sewer tunnel as she walked to the Plaza.

The victim testified at the 1988 trial that she could not identify Wright as her attacker because the man wore sunglasses and a baseball cap.

But using technology available at the time, a forensic chemist testified that a hair with characteristics matching those of Wright’s hair was found on the woman’s underclothing. And another hair, matching the victim’s, was found on Wright’s clothes, the chemist testified.

Wright contended during trial that he had not sodomized the woman and became a suspect only because he was in the area at the time and evaded police officers and hid for an hour. Wright said he hid because he thought he was being sought for a drug charge pending in California.

His case was taken up by lawyers from the New York-based Innocence Project who argued that modern DNA testing could provide the kind of conclusive proof the 1988 analysis could not. They noted that if the testing exonerated Wright, it could also identify the unpunished perpetrator.

Jackson County prosecutors agreed to the testing, which a judge ordered in 2011.

“My office agreed to further testing in the Pete Wright case because we wanted to confirm that justice had been done,” Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said in a written statement. “I’m pleased that everyone can now agree that justice was obtained in this case.”

When the victim, who was living in another state, was contacted about the testing, Baker said the victim “once again demonstrated her courage and resolve, expressing her willingness to cooperate and work to ensure that justice was done.”

Wright’s case now has been closed. He is serving his sentence at the Northeast Correctional Center in Bowling Green, according to Missouri Department of Corrections records. Prosecutors said he is due to complete his sentence in September 2017.

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