BERLIN – The perpetrator of one of the most heinous crimes in Ocean City history, Jermaine Wright, is behind bars again this week after getting caught stealing scrap metal from a private excavating company in Somerset County just four months after his premature release for the 1995 murder.
Wright, who in 1995 lured a young girl in Ocean City for Senior Week into his car before ultimately murdering her and discarding her body along a country road in Whaleyville, was arrested by Maryland State Police in Somerset County after getting caught stealing scrap metal from Reynolds Excavating in Eden. Company owner Richard Reynolds observed Wright and another man stealing thousands of dollars worth of scrap metal from his business before fleeing in a pick-up truck, and Reynolds followed and eventually stopped the suspects and held them until police arrived.
Wright remains behind bars this week in Somerset County on a $20,000 bond, although he won’t likely be released any time soon. While he faces felony theft and theft scheme charges in Somerset, his arrest just four months after his release from prison is a clear violation of the conditions of his parole and probation, and he will likely be returned to Worcester County at some point to face those charges, according to sources.
Wright walked out of prison a free man in February after serving roughly seven years of a 15-year sentence imposed as part of a plea bargain in 2001. The plea bargain was reached after the Maryland Court of Special Appeals overturned his 1999 conviction, which resulted in a life sentence for Wright, because the jury was erroneously supplied with newspaper articles about his earlier convictions for similar crimes in North Carolina years earlier.
Instead of serving life in prison for the murder of then 16-year-old Krista Ruggles, Wright was once again allowed to walk the streets after serving just seven years for the crime when the appeals court overturned his earlier conviction and prosecutors were uncertain they could get the same result in a new trial. Not sure he could convince a new jury Wright committed the murder, Worcester County State’s Attorney Joel Todd entered a plea bargain with Wright in 2001 resulting in a 15-year sentence.
On June 14, 1995, two weeks shy of her 17th birthday, Ruggles and a friend went to an under-21 nightclub in Ocean City where they first met Wright. After the girls left the club, they walked north on the Boardwalk toward their hotel when they were approached again by Wright, who offered them a ride back to their room at the Dunes Manor. At the hotel, Wright asked Ruggles to stay behind so he could talk to her for 10 minutes and she complied, over the objections of her friend. It was the last time she would be seen alive.
Around 3:45 a.m., the roommate saw Ruggles drive off with Wright in his car. She waited in the lobby until about 5:30 a.m. before going back to Ruggle’s room. Later that morning, she filed a missing persons report with the Ocean City Police. On June 19, a woman biking on Fooks Rd. near Whaleysville noticed something pink about 25 feet off the road. Closer inspection revealed the body of a teenage girl, later identified as Ruggles.
An autopsy determined her death had been caused by manual strangulation and blunt force injuries to the head. There was also evidence of sodomy. The autopsy estimated Ruggles had been killed between three days to one week prior to her discovery with four days the most likely scenario, which corresponded to her chance meeting with Wright, who immediately became the prime suspect.
Wright was later indicted for the first degree murder of Ruggles. In 1999, a Worcester County jury found Wright guilty of first-degree murder and he was sentenced to life in prison. However, it later came to light the jury had been inadvertently provided with newspaper articles about Wright’s earlier arrests for sex offenses in North Carolina, which provided the catalyst for a successful appeal of the murder conviction.
In March 2000, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals agreed access to the newspaper articles could have prejudiced the jury against Wright, consciously or subconsciously, and upheld the appeal, sending the case back to Worcester County Circuit Court for a retrial. At the time of the first trial, the Circuit Court judge admonished the jury not to consider the articles in their deliberations and was confident they had heeded his advice, but the appeals court ruled otherwise.
The case was then remanded back to Worcester County Circuit Court for a new trial. Although the evidence against Wright was largely circumstantial, Todd and the prosecution team did have strong testimony from a correctional employee and Wright’s cellmate, Antonio Lewis, that the defendant talked freely about the case while incarcerated.
Wright essentially confessed the crime to Lewis at one point and his testimony was a lynchpin in the original trial, but bringing Lewis back to testify at the new trial would have been difficult if not impossible, which was largely the reason for the plea bargain in the new trial in 2001.
Now, just four months after his release from prison, Wright is back behind bars where he will likely remain this time.