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Closing arguments begin Thursday in Joseph Elledge murder trial

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

Closing arguments in the Joseph Elledge murder trial will start Thursday morning.

The defense finished up its last piece of evidence just after 3 p.m. Both sides will now go over what charges jurors might consider convicting Elledge of.

Elledge is charged with first-degree murder. That comes with just one penalty in this case - life in prison without parole. Defense attorneys say they want jurors to also consider voluntary and involuntary manslaughter as well.

The jury will get those instructions along with closing arguments Thursday morning at 8:30. Prosecutor Dan Knight has said before his closing arguments could take more than an hour. The defense will get a response after that, and prosecutors will get the last word.

If the jury convicts Elledge of anything other than first-degree murder or acquits him, the jury will then recommend a punishment for the judge to consider.

The prosecution questioned Elledge for over four hours about the night he says he "accidentally" killed his wife, Mengqi Ji. Knight questioned Elledge about the night of October 8th, the night Elledge admits to accidentally killing Ji.

Elledge admits to straddling Ji in order to give her a massage. Ji's remains were found with multiple broken ribs.

Mengqi Ji and Joseph Elledge

The defense stated the broken ribs came from an animal stepping on her remains in the gravesite.

Knight then moved on to Elledge's version of events. Elledge said he pushed Ji in a heated argument she fell and hit her head, later dying in her sleep. Knight asks Elledge to show the jury the motion of how he pushed her. Elledge is hesitant to show the motion.

"You have no idea if she hit her head or not, Joe," Knight said.

"I suppose so," Elledge said.

Knight asks Elledge if he put Ji's dead body in one of two suitcases.

"I don't think so," Elledge said.

Elledge drove around with Jim's body in the back of his car for about two days. Knight asks Elledge why after killing Ji, he played three upbeat country songs. Elledge said he played the songs for his daughter.

Morning testimony

Joseph Elledge is expected to take the stand Wednesday after nearly eight hours of questioning on Tuesday in his murder trial.

This comes more than two years after his wife Mengqi Ji disappeared. Her body was discovered in Rock Bridge State Park more than a year later.

Elledge discussed on the stand his version of events as to what happened to his wife in October of 2019.

Elledge said he shoved Ji, who fell and hit her head in what the defense is calling, "a tragic accident."

"I pushed her," said Elledge.

Defense attorney Scott Rosenblum said, "Hard?"

"Probably even harder [than the first time]," said Elledge. "She fell down."

Rosenblum said, "Did you hear her hit anything?"

"She fell, she hit her head in the kitchen with a big thud. I felt it," said Elledge.

Elledge said it wasn't until the next morning when he discovered his wife was dead. He called his next few decisions not to call 911 and to hide her body in Rock Bridge State Park, "stupid."

Criminal Defense Attorney Jennifer Bukowsky said Elledge's testimony is necessary if the defense is looking for a lesser charge adding, "him shoving her hard he concedes, hard... could be a way for the ground to be laid to get that instruction submitted for voluntary manslaughter as opposed to just first-degree murder."

Elledge's trial is set to continue Wednesday at the Boone County Courthouse at 8:30 a.m.

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Ben Fein

Ben Fein is a multimedia journalist for ABC 17 News. You can usually see his reports on weekend mornings or weekdays at 5, 6 and 6:30 p.m. on KMIZ.

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Leila Mitchell

Leila is a Penn State graduate who started with KMIZ in March 2021. She studied journalism and criminal justice in college.

Lucas Geisler

Lucas Geisler anchors the 5 p.m. show for ABC 17 News and reports on the latest news around mid-Missouri at 9 and 10 p.m.

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