ABOVE: Joseph Elledge enters the courtroom Thursday for a hearing in a child abuse case. Pool video provided by KRCG.
COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
Boone County Circuit Judge Brouck Jacobs set a trial date Thursday in the child abuse case against the husband of a missing Columbia woman.
Joseph Elledge is facing charges of child abuse and endangerment. Jacobs set a trial date of April 6 during a contentious hearing Thursday.
The trial will begin in Warren County with 100 potential jurors. Once the selection is completed, the jury will be brought back to Boone County and opening arguments could begin that night, Jacobs said during the hearing.
The hearing came one day after Joseph Elledge was charged with first-degree murder in connection with Mengqi Ji's disappearance. Ji was last seen Oct. 8. Authorities have conducted extensive searches for her body, including in the Lamine River in Cooper County, but have not found Ji.
A probable cause statement filed Wednesday night includes previously undisclosed details of the prosecution's case. Police believe Elledge might have strangled his wife to death the night of Oct. 8. Court documents also detail long car trips Elledge took in the days after his wife's disappearance, including to the Lamine River.
The documents also detail marital troubles the couple was having leading up to Ji's disappearance, including alleged threats Elledge made to his wife.
Prosecutors charged Elledge with child abuse during the investigation into his wife's disappearance. The alleged abuse happened months before Ji's disappearance, according to court documents.
Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight said in court Thursday that he might drop the child endangerment charge against Elledge. The charge alleges that Elledge endangered the child he shares with Ji by depriving the child of its mother's care.
"This is a real serious situation, both of these cases, its a tragic situation and we're going to do everything we can to achieve justice in these cases," Knight said.
Knight couldn't speak much about the new 1st degree murder case, but knows this could be an uphill battle.
"I'm aware of the major issues in this case, just like in all other cases that I handle," Knight said. "I took my time, and I've researched things and filed that charge in good faith, just like in any other case that I do."
Elledge through his attorney John O'Connor has maintained his innocence. O'Connor declined to comment Thursday.