COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
Boone County's head prosecutor said Wednesday that murder convictions can be won without a body, as divers continued their search for a missing Columbia woman in the Lamine River.
Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight spoke with ABC 17 News about cases in general, not addressing the specifics of the investigation around Mengqi Ji Elledge's disappearance.
Knight has said in court that Mengqi's husband, Joseph Elledge, is the main suspect in her disappearance, which he labeled a murder.
Knight said Wednesday that murder convictions do not necessarily require a victim's body.
"That is definitely the exception to the rule," Knight said. "In the vast majority of murder cases that are prosecuted and taken to trial, there is evidence that the body is actually recovered."
Evidence that an individual is dead is required to establish murder charges.
An expert in defense law acknowledged that it is possible to prosecute a murder without a physical body. However, the prosecution is required to prove the death of the victim, and this could present a greater level of difficulty to convict the suspect.
The defense expert also said a longer time frame in which an individual is missing aids in getting the jury to infer that the individual is dead. Since Mengqi was reported missing on Oct. 10, she has not been seen for approximately 8 weeks.
In this case specifically, Mengqi's mere absence and disappearance is not sufficient for the state to initiate charges for murder.
Authorities have not yet filed a probable cause statement or criminal charges relating to Mengqi's death. Law enforcement typically needs to file a probable cause statement before charges can be filed.
"Sometimes we can initiate charges through the grand jury," Knight said. "But that's rare that we do that without a probable cause statement."
Joseph Elledge is jailed on charges of child abuse and child endangerment but has not been charged in Mengqi's death.
Dive teams were in their third day Wednesday of searching the Lamine River for Mengqi.
Columbia Police Department spokesman Jeff Pitts said the search would focus on the area under the Highway 41 bridge.
Check back for more on this developing story or watch ABC 17 News at 6.