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Rapist sentenced to life

Calling him a "brutal rapist," a judge sentenced Otis Wright to life in prison Friday.

As the victim sobbed in the gallery, Circuit Judge R. Timothy Peters admonished the 51-year-old St. Petersburg man, who authorities believe abducted and sexually assaulted dozens of women over the past 30 years.

"Basically, you have preyed upon women in south St. Petersburg for years and years and years," Peters said.

Wright, who also calls himself Larry Love, was impassive for most of the 30-minute hearing. His lawyer, Daniel Hernandez, told the judge he is planning an appeal.

Earlier this month, a Pinellas County jury found Wright guilty of one count each of sexual assault and kidnapping.

The victim, a 23-year-old woman, testified Wright grabbed her from behind while she was walking on a night in December 2001 and took her to a vacant house, at 1763 Preston St. S. She said she was held against her will for hours and raped repeatedly.

Two other women, who police believe were raped by Wright, were allowed to testify under the Williams Rule, which allows prosecutors to introduce evidence of prior incidents that suggest the crime was not an isolated event.

Hernandez said he asked Wright's mother to speak on her son's behalf at the sentencing hearing, but she wasn't in the courtroom Friday. Hernandez said she is elderly and has medical problems.

"But I think she would say she loves him very much and her son, Otis Wright, is someone who has been a good son to her," Hernandez said.

He argued his client deserved the minimum penalty, 12 years in prison, because some of the trial testimony was contradictory. But prosecutor Tim Hessinger said life in prison was the only acceptable sentence.

The judge agreed.

"I will tell you, there's not a doubt in my mind that you have committed a sexual battery on all of the women who testified," Peters told Wright.

Wright has been arrested five previous times on sexual battery charges going back to 1976, but none of those cases reached trial as the victims either disappeared or stopped cooperating with prosecutors.

Police believe Wright deliberately chose victims with troubled histories. Many were drug abusers, alcoholics, thieves or prostitutes. But authorities got a break in December 2001, after St. Petersburg police matched Wright's DNA to evidence in several unsolved rape cases.

There are six more cases pending against Wright. Next, he will be tried for the sexual assault and kidnapping of Kelly Ostroski, who told police she was grabbed from behind and raped in September 2001.

Prosecutors must rely on the testimony of other victims for this case: Ms. Ostroski was murdered two weeks after she reported being raped.

A trial date has not yet been set.

_ Carrie Johnson can be reached at (727) 892-2273 or cjohnsonsptimes.com.

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