AKRON, Ohio — David Strittmatter smiles when he thinks about what his younger brother, Charlie Wright, would be like today as a 41-year-old man.
"He would have been a light," Strittmatter said while holding back tears. "He was always smiling, cute, playful and funny."
But the 7-year-old first-grader never got the chance to grow up. On the night of April 22, 1987, Wayne Doyle — the boyfriend of Charlie's biological mother — grabbed the boy by the neck and threw him across the room.
About six hours later, around 3 a.m., Doyle inflicted another beating on Charlie in the basement of a home on East Exchange Street in Akron.
Charlie suffered several broken bones and his small intestine ruptured, leading to an infection and his death.
The killing, which sparked outrage throughout the community, is now back in the spotlight after the Ohio Parole Board recommended Doyle be released from prison.
His convictions for involuntary manslaughter, felonious assault and child endangering carried a sentence of 15 to 40 years. Doyle, who is now 68 years old, has served more than 33 years.
News 5 has covered the high-profile case over the decades. In 1997, a crew spoke to family members, including David and former Summit County Prosecutor Maureen O'Connor, about their opposition to parole.
In its October 2020 recommendation, the board said specific factors were considered and that Doyle engaged in programming to abate his risk to re-offend.
"His conduct has been acceptable for many years. He presents a viable and realistic reentry plan," the board wrote.
Strittmatter, who was also abused by Doyle, said when first received a letter detailing the possible parole, his first reaction was "whatever will be will be."
But after further reflection and reading many social media posts, Strittmatter said he came to the realization that Doyle should stay behind bars.
"It's been a long time since I've thought about what this man did to Charlie and I. I've struggled my entire life with fighting the effects of what this man did to us," Strittmatter said. "I want to forgive this man with every part of me, but I think I've come to the realization that I am not able to yet. I still live with the scars he caused, so I don't feel he should be free of those scars yet either."
A full board hearing is scheduled for February 17. Strittmatter, who uses the last name of the foster parents who adopted him, is connecting with Summit County prosecutors and plans to speak to the Ohio Parole Board remotely.
"The fact that he was capable of doing that to a child of that age says something about his character," Strittmatter told News 5. "The fact that he was capable of doing it once means he could possibly do it again."
Charlie's death was slow and agonizing. In fact, several hours after the beating in the basement, he went to school where he complained about his stomach hurting.
Later that day, he walked to a neighborhood store where he was found curled up in a ball before he was taken home by his mother, Loretta Wright.
The next morning, April 24, David found Charlie dead in his bed — an image that haunts the older brother to this day.
"That's etched in my memory, just trying to shake him to wake him up and not being able to wake him up," Strittmatter said.
Loretta Wright never sought medical attention for Charlie. She was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to six to 25 years, but was released on shock probation after 18 months.
After violating her probation, she went back to prison but was released in 2004.
Bret Vinocur, who runs a non-profit called Block Parole Inc. has launched a petition urging the Ohio Parole Board to keep Doyle in prison.
"This case was especially egregious," Vinocur said. "He actually woke the child up at 3 a.m. in the morning and took him downstairs to beat him. I don't know in all the cases I've ever seen that I've ever seen anything like that."
Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh took to social media to oppose Doyle's release.
She asked people to express their concerns by filling out a form on the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections website, or by emailing the Ohio Parole Board.
"His original date of release is April of 2027. We believe Doyle should serve every day of his prison sentence," Bevan Walsh wrote.
Strittmatter, a father of two teens, said the tragedy — which he called despicable and disgusting — will always be a part of his history, but he also focuses on his own healing.
"The anger and the emotion of everything that's wrapped up into it isn't a part of who I am anymore."
On some days, Strittmatter takes time to remember Charlie's curious and funny nature — precious thoughts that help replace so many painful memories.
"You couldn't help but smile anytime he was around," he said.
News 5 content partner the Akron-Beacon Journal has compiled this timeline of Wayne Doyle's case from their archives and prison and court records:
April 24, 1987: Charles “Charlie” Wright, 7, of Akron dies from a beating severe enough to rupture his intestine.
May 1987: Loretta Wright, Charlie’s mother, and Wayne Doyle, her live-in boyfriend, are indicted for involuntary manslaughter and other charges in Charlie’s death.
September 1987: A jury finds Doyle guilty of involuntary manslaughter, felonious assault and child endangering. He is sentenced to 15 to 40 years in prison.
October 1987: Wright pleads no contest and is found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and child endangering. She is sentenced to 6 to 25 years in prison.
November 1988: Loretta Wright is released on shock probation. She visits her probation officer once, then skips town.
1990: The Summit County Child Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee is formed in response to Charlie’s death. The committee is tasked with scrutinizing child deaths.
March 1993: A jury decides the Summit County Children Services Board wasn’t at fault in Charlie’s death. Charles and Sharon Wright, Charlie’s grandparents, filed the $10 million wrongful death suit.
July 1997: Doyle’s first parole bid is denied after the Ohio Parole Board receives letters and petitions from nearly 16,000 people opposing his release.
June/July 2000: Loretta Wright is caught in Arizona after hiding from the law for 11 ½ years. She pleads guilty to violating her probation and a judge reimposes her original sentence.
February 2004: Wright is released on parole.
October 2020: An Ohio Parole Board panel recommends that Doyle be released.
Feb. 17, 2021: The full parole board will have a hearing on Doyle’s release.
Source: Beacon Journal archives and prison and court records.