Friday, February 27–Prosecutor Seeks Max For Killer’s Probation Violation

BERLIN – The perpetrator of one of the most heinous crimes in Ocean City history, Jermaine Wright, released a little over a year ago after serving just seven years of an amended 15-year sentence, could be headed back to jail for a long stretch after a conviction on theft charges in Wicomico County two weeks ago.

Wright was arrested last May on theft and theft conspiracy charges after getting caught stealing scrap metal from Reynolds Excavating in Eden. The arrest came just four months after Wright was released from prison after serving seven years of a 15-year sentence for the murder of then 16-year-old Krista Ruggles in Ocean City in 1995. Wright’s arrest last May led to theft charges in both Wicomico and Somerset counties, violating the terms of his parole and probation and opening the possibility the convicted killer could have his Worcester County murder case reopened.

That occurred two weeks ago when Wright was found guilty of theft and theft conspiracy in Wicomico County and sentenced to 18 months in jail. He still faces similar charges in Somerset County for the same incident last May and is expected to appear for trial in that case on March 25. With the conviction on theft charges in Wicomico County, Worcester County State’s Attorney Joel Todd last week filed a petition for violation of probation for Wright, bringing the convicted killer back to Worcester County to face a possible extension of his sentence for Ruggles’ murder.

Todd said this week if it is determined Wright violated the terms of his parole and probation following his release last February, he could be sent back to prison to face the rest of or any part of remaining sentence.

“That will be up to the judge to decide,” Todd said this week. “If he is found to be in violation of his probation terms, he could be sentenced to all or any part of his original sentence. We are going to be trying to get every single day we can for him.”

Any new jail time for Wright on the theft charges in Wicomico and Somerset could be incidental to a much longer sentence he faces in Worcester should he be found in violation of his probation. Todd said he would seek the maximum, which could send Wright back to prison to face the remainder of his 15-year sentence.

“We’ll certainly be looking to add as much time to his sentence as we can,” he said. “He will likely face a sentence to run concurrent with or consecutive to any sentence handed down in these other jurisdictions, but we’re obviously going to push for the latter.”

Wright walked out of prison a free man last 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 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, 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 Wright approached them again and offered them a ride back to their hotel room. 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.

On June 19, 1995, 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 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. In March 2000, however, 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.

In the second trial, uncertainties about a successful outcome years after the first trial led to a plea bargain that resulted in a 30-year sentence for Wright, of which 15 years was suspended. He walked out of jail last February after serving just seven years of the 15-year stint, but was arrested just four months later for theft in Wicomico and Somerset Counties and his conviction two weeks ago could send him back to serve the rest of his term.