COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
Boone County's lead prosecutor said in court Wednesday that the husband of a missing woman is the prime suspect in her disappearance, accusing him of killing her.
Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight said at a bond reduction hearing that investigators suspect Joseph Elledge in the October disappearance of his wife, Mengqi Elledge. He has been charged with child abuse but not in her disappearance.
Joseph Elledge is the "prime suspect in the murder of Mengqi Elledge," Knight told a packed courtroom. He also tried to submit as evidence recordings of Joseph and Mengqi Elledge that he called "threatening."
On cross-examination, Columbia Police Department Det. Alan Mitchell said investigators have "no evidence" Mengqi Elledge is alive but there is no physical evidence tying Joseph Elledge to her disappearance.
Joseph Elledge, 24, of Columbia was arrested and charged with child abuse or neglect in October after officers allegedly found evidence of abuse during their missing person's investigation centered on his wife.
He was in a Boone County courtroom Wednesday for a bond reduction hearing. Judge Tracy Gonzalez took the bond reduction request under advisement. It wasn't clear when she would rule on the request.
Mengqi Ji Elledge, 28, went missing Oct. 8. Joseph Elledge reported her missing a day and a half after she allegedly didn't come home.
Joseph Elledge's lawyer, John O'Connor of Kansas City, filed a motion to reduce his bond, which is currently set at $500,000.
During the hearing, Knight also asked Joseph Elledge's mother, Jean Elledge, where Mengqi Elledge was. "What has the defendant told you about where he put Mengqi," Knight said during Jean Elledge's testimony.
Knight played tape recordings from Joseph Elledge's phone that Knight claimed we "threatening."
According to the bond reduction motion O'Connor filed, the bond investigator stated Joseph Elledge appeared to be leaving the area at the time of his arrest and that he is a suspect in his wife's disappearance.
O'Connor argues that Elledge is not the only suspect in the case, and that Mengqi Elledge had been "exchanging sexually explicit texts with another individual."
In the motion, O'Connor also argues Elledge has no prior felony or misdemeanor arrests or convictions and that he has "no prior history of violence of any type."
O'Connor stated Joseph Elledge was studying engineering at the University of Missouri and was scheduled to graduate in December, but now he has been suspended.
The motion also says on the day Joseph Elledge was arrested "he cooperated with detectives and answered their questions in the present case." It goes on to says he was with his mother, Jean Elledge, when he was stopped by detectives.
When Jean Elledge was separated from her son, the motion says, she told detectives they were going to her home in Blue Springs, Missouri, and would be returning to Columbia on Sunday.
O'Connor claims "detectives failed to share this information" on the probable cause statement in Joseph Elledge's case, with prosecutors or with the judge who issued the warrant.
Jean Elledge took the stand and spoke about being stopped by police. During wuestion from Knight, she also said she had recommended counseling to both Joseph and Mengqi.
Knight believes Joseph is a threat to the community, his daughter, and that he is a flight risk.
O'Connor argues the state only considers Joseph Elledge a flight risk based on him being seen packing items from his house to leave for an "unknown period of time," on Oct. 20.
The motion includes a list of the items that O'Connor argues are "consistent with a weekend to Blue Springs," where his mother lives. He also cites text messages between Joseph, Jean and other people indicating a trip to the Kansas City area.
The motion states again that Joseph Elledge cooperated with Columbia police every time officials came to his house to ask further questions until he hired a lawyer on Oct. 21.
After the bond reduction hearing, Knight told ABC17 News finding Mengqi is the most important part of this case.
"Right now the primary focus, the main focus is finding Mengqi wherever she is," Knight said.
Knight urged anyone with information regarding the case to contact the Columbia Police Department.
Elledge's Attorney, John O'Connor had no comment after the hearing was over.
The judge did not make a decision Wednesday about the bond reduction, but said she would make it "relatively quick."
Joseph Elledge's parents are also locked in a custody battle with Mengqi Elledge's parents over guardianship of their child. The families were at the Boone County Courthouse making their arguments for custody Monday and Tuesday. Supporters of Mengqi Elledge's family carried signs and stationed themselves outside the courthouse both days.
Those supporters were outside the courthouse again Wednesday for Joseph Elledge's court appearance.
It's not clear whether the custody case has been resolved -- media and the public are barred from those hearings.