Columbia man gets 30 years in abduction

Victim sought punishment for 19-hour ordeal

May 13, 1999|By Del Wilber | Del Wilber,SUN STAFF

John R. Righter, who abducted a former co-worker in Columbia and took her on a handcuffed odyssey to Ohio in 1997, was sentenced yesterday to 30 years in prison.

After hearing nearly four hours of sentencing testimony, much of it focusing on Righter's depression and lonely childhood, Howard County Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney said he was trying to balance sending a message and getting Righter help.

"He clearly understood the consequences [he] embarked upon," said Sweeney, who also recommended that Righter, 23, serve his sentence at the Patuxent Institution, where he can receive psychological counseling.

Stephanie Musick, the victim, sat silently during the hearing and testified briefly, saying she hoped Righter would be punished.

She declined to comment about the verdict. Defense attorney Louis P. Willemin also declined to comment. Assistant State's Attorney Michael D. Rexroad said the sentence was fair.

"It was a just and appropriate sentence," Rexroad said. "We feel it will be sufficient deterrence to protect [citizens] and Ms. Musick."

Righter was convicted in May 1998 of kidnapping, assault and false imprisonment in the Sept. 19, 1997, abduction. Righter will be eligible for parole in about 13 years.

In 1997, Righter and Musick were working at Sears in Columbia.

Righter began stalking Musickand surprised her that September morning at her home in River Hill with a 9 mm handgun, which he brandished at neighbors. Righter then handcuffed Musick in his car and drove away, taking her on a 19-hour trip to Ohio, which ended in his arrest. She was not injured.

Nearly 20 months after the kidnapping, Musick testified she still finds herself looking over her shoulder.

"My life has been changed forever," she said. "This has been devastating to me."

During the hearing, Righter kept his head down and eyes on the table -- even during his mother's testimony -- until he apologized.

"I'm sorry for what I've done," Righter said in a brief statement. "I hate myself for what I've done. I need help."

Most of the testimony focused on Righter's troubled youth. He grew up without friends -- he could recall only two boyhood buddies, psychologists testified. Despite high intelligence, psychologists said, Righter was depressed, lonely, withdrawn and lacked basic social skills.

After graduating from high school in 1993, he joined the Army but was soon discharged because of bad feet.

Twice he briefly left his Columbia home, leaving simple notes for his mother -- "Gone west" and "Gone west yet again."

The first time, his car broke down in Cumberland. The second time, he took a bus to Washington state, where he quickly ran out of cash.

For two years, he stayed at home -- reading books, watching television, playing video games -- until he took a job at Sears. There, he worked assiduously, arriving early and staying late. He was fired in July 1997 after writing an angry and threatening letter, filled with profanity, about uncollected trash.

At Sears, he met Musick, who offered him a few nice comments -- something the socially withdrawn Righter misinterpreted, psychologists testified. Unable to handle friendship, Righter became obsessed, they said.

Pub Date: 5/13/99

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