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Jury recommends 28-year prison sentence for Joseph Elledge

Penalty phase begins after jury finds Joseph Elledge guilty of second-degree murder

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

A jury recommended a 28-year prison sentence for Joseph Elledge after finding him guilty of second-degree murder in the death of his wife, Mengqi Ji.

The jury announced it's recommendation just before 1 a.m. Friday, nearly six hours after announcing its verdict.

Judge Brouck Jacobs cannot sentence Elledge to anything greater than the jury's recommendation. A sentencing hearing is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 17.

The penalty phase of the trial started around 8:40 p.m. Boone County prosecutor Dan Knight asked for life in prison for Elledge, while Elledge's defense attorney Scott Rosenblum asked for 10 years.

Both sides presented evidence for the jury, including statements from those affected by Ji's death. The prosecution had five witnesses testify during the penalty phase. The witnesses included two police detectives, two of Ji’s friends and a children’s counselor.

The defense called Elledge’s mother, Jean, to the stand. Jean said Ji's death is heartbreaking and out of Elledge's character. Jean said she misses Ji very much.

Watch coverage from the courthouse in the player below.

The jury found Joseph Elledge guilty of second-degree murder after around seven hours of deliberations. Deliberations started around noon Thursday following closing arguments.

During deliberations, jurors asked to see some pieces of evidence. They asked for more information on the medical examiner, Dr. Keith Norton's testimony from Wednesday.

They also asked for the legal definition of "sudden passion," which was one of the legal elements of voluntary manslaughter Elledge's defense team tried to convince jurors happened.

Jurors had six options to choose from: first-degree or second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, first- or second-degree involuntary manslaughter or acquittal.

During closing statements Thursday morning, Knight argued the jury should convict Elledge of first-degree murder. Knight said the evidence proved Elledge was guilty of murder in the first-degree and only in the first-degree.

In order to get first-degree, the state would have had to prove Elledge knowingly killed Ji after he deliberated. Knight argued deliberation could even be for a few seconds. He said if Elledge had the thought to kill and then knowingly acted on that thought, deliberation was present.

Knight talked about how much Elledge hated Ji's mother and hated Ji for sticking by her side. Knight talked about Elledge being controlling and gaslighting Ji on numerous occasions played for the jury in nine hours of audio recordings. On the night of Ji's death, Knight said Elledge confronted her about cheating on him, which Elledge knew about for a week prior. Knight argued that was more than enough evidence to prove deliberation and first-degree murder.

During closing statements, Rosenblum said Elledge was telling the truth that killing Ji was an accident. He said that Elledge was full of emotion and adrenaline and pushed her hard, but did not push her intending to hurt Ji. Rosenblum said there was no intent or deliberation.

He said if Elledge didn't respond in the way the jury expected, it is because he's awkward, but in the end, he was telling the truth. Rosenblum said all the prosecution had was speculation and hypothesis.

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