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Judge denies request to leave plant, soil science testimony out of Elledge trial

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

A judge will allow prosecutors to bring plant and soil experts to a Boone County murder trial.

Judge Brouck Jacobs denied the defense team request of Joseph Elledge to exclude testimony from four witnesses prosecutors plan to call. Those witnesses studied the soil and vegetation found in Rock Bridge State Park, where Mengqi Ji's body was found, and Elledge's boots.

Elledge's first-degree murder trial is set to start next week. This comes more than two years after Elledge's wife, Ji, was originally reported missing and months after her remains were identified in April.

Elledge was charged with the murder of his wife in February of 2020.

Defense attorney Matei Storescu questioned the methods scientists at the Missouri State Highway Patrol and Missouri Botanical Garden used to make the match. Will Randle, the patrol's trace evidence supervisor, said soil found at the site where police found Ji's body matched some samples found on Elledge's boots. Randle told Stroescu during the hearing there was no way to determine the error rate of his analysis.

Stroescu also called the match made by Dr. Aaron Floden of the Missouri Botanical Garden subjective. Dr. Floden, a botanist at the St. Louis-based facility, said some seeds and plants found on Elledge's boots could be found at the same place in the park where Ji's body was found. Stroescu said this match, though, was based on Floden's knowledge and not on a forensic analysis.

"It's good enough in the world of botany, it's not good enough in the world of forensics," Stroescu said.

Prosecutor Dan Knight said the expert witnesses should not be left out, and had experience studying soil and plants.

Both sides will take up other pre-trial motions Friday. The state is asking to bar the defense from discussing the failure of the state to call certain witnesses at trial, as well as the lack of physical evidence. The state also responded to the defense's motion to suppress statements Elledge made to police. In the response, prosecutors said, "All the defendant's statements were made during a voluntary encounter with police."

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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.

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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