Friday, June 19–Murderer Heads Back To Jail After Theft Conviction

SNOW HILL – 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, is going back to jail for a long time after a violation of probation hearing last week resulted in a new 25-year sentence.

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 fairly minor charges, all things considered, in Wicomico and Somerset counties, but more importantly, the crime violated the terms of his parole and probation for the 1995 murder conviction, giving Worcester County prosecutors a second chance at the one that got away. That chance came last Friday when Wright appeared in Circuit Court for a violation of probation hearing and prosecutors made the best of it.

Wright was found guilty of violating the terms of his parole and probation and was sentenced to 15 years for second-degree murder and 10 years for sodomy, netting him a new 25-year sentence, putting the notorious killer back behind bars for a long time.

“We’re just glad he is put back in jail where he belongs,” said Deputy States Attorney Mike Farlow. “The judge put him away for 25 years, and he is going to do just about all of that this time. He might be eligible for parole 13,14, 15 years from now, but I doubt he would ever be paroled. He already violated parole once.”

Wright walked out of prison a free man last February after serving roughly less than half 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 murder 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.

Wright became a well-known name in Ocean City 14 years ago. 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 reportedly 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.

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 Ruggles’ 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.

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.

“Although the jurors may have honestly thought that they could disregard the information in the articles, in our judgment, any doubts the jurors may have had, reasonable or otherwise, would have been resolved against appellant – even if only subconsciously – as a result of the information contained in the articles,” the opinion read.

With that said, the appeals court remanded the case 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.

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 his convictions on the theft and trespassing charges in neighboring counties just four months after his release violated his probation and gave Worcester County prosecutors a second chance to put him away for a long time.