High on a combination of meth and alcohol, Craig Michael Wood, a coach and teacher’s aide at a Springfield, Missouri middle school, kidnapped, raped, and murdered a 10-year-old girl, then stuffed her remains in a trash bag.
As his first degree murder trial enters its third day Wednesday in Greene County Circuit Court, even Wood’s lawyer Patrick Berrigan concedes his client committed the acts that shocked the southwest Missouri community on February 18, 2014. He acknowledged it in his opening statement.
The only question is whether Wood, 49, will receive the death penalty and whether his lawyers, veterans at trying death penalty cases, can convince a jury that drugs, alcohol and sexual addiction are good enough reasons for Wood to escape lethal injection.
Testimony in the first two days of the trial showed that Wood had gone to work at the middle school that day, but his victim had stayed home sick. The girl felt better as the day continued and left her home to visit a friend after the school day ended.
The last person other than Wood to see Hailey Owens alive, Michelle Edwards, testified that she saw a man driving a truck pull up beside the girl and asked her how to get to Springfield Street.
The girl moved away from him, but he followed, opened the driver’s side door and pulled the girl into his truck, “like she was a rag doll,” Edwards said.
Edwards managed to get the license plate number, which eventually led Springfield Police to Wood. Hailey Owens’ clothing was found in a dumpster and after obtaining a search warrant, officers found the girl’s body in Wood’s basement, stuffed into a trash bag and placed inside a plastic tub. The home smelled of a strong bleach where Wood had attempted to clean the area where he shot and killed the 10-year-old.
A subsequent search of Wood’s home turned up child pornography on his computer and a purple folder in which he detailed his sexual fantasies about the female students at the middle school where he worked. Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Patterson read to the jury two of those fantasies, one of which featured Wood drugging a 13-year-old and sexually abusing her and the other detailing him having sex with an underage girl following a game of truth or dare.
Patterson called the assistant principal at Wood’s school, Tracy Williams, who testified there had never been any concerns about Wood’s relationships with students and he had never given them any cause for concern. Williams said he had noticed nothing unusual about Wood’s behavior on the day Hailey Owens died.
The most emotional testimony came from Hailey Owens’ mother, who told of the phone call she received from the girl telling her she was heading home from her friend’s home.
It was the last time she ever heard Hailey’s voice.
The prosecution will continue presenting its case Wednesday.
[Featured Image by Nathan Papes/AP Images]