Prosecutors are asking a judge to reject a request by the husband of a woman missing since October to move his upcoming child abuse trial away from Boone County.
Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight on Thursday submitted a one-page motion objecting to a change of venue for the child abuse and endangerment trial of Joseph Duane Elledge, who has been named as the primary suspect in the disappearance of his wife, Mengqi Ji.
“The state denies that the inhabitants of Boone County are prejudiced against the defendant or that the state has an undue influence over the inhabitants of Boone County,” Knight wrote in the objection, also arguing the change of venue request was not filed within 10 days as required by law.
The 28-year-old mother went missing Oct. 11 and has since been the focus of days of intensive searching by Columbia police. She is feared dead and authorities have repeatedly searched a section of the Lamine River in Cooper County trying to find her body or other evidence in the case.
Media coverage of the events has also been intense, defense attorney John O’Connor wrote in his recent request to have the trial moved. He argues he has spoken with “a dozen” lawyers in Columbia who told him the media attention is “like no other case they have seen in Boone County in over 25 years.”
“If this case is tried with a Boone County jury, during jury selection, Mr. Elledge will be handicapped with a venue already prejudiced against him because of the substantial media buzz surrounding his case,” O’Connor wrote in the application for a change of venue.
O'Connor has filed 71 exhibits, all of which are local news articles on the case, corresponding social media posts and responses by residents, which he writes shows Elledge could not get a fair trial.
“The comments clearly display a wave of animosity toward the defendant that would make it impossible to have a fair trial,” O'Connor wrote, adding that as the Feb. 25 trial date nears, media coverage will increase.
Through the investigation of Ji’s disappearance, a witness came forward with information about the first two counts Elledge was charged with, child abuse and child endangerment.
During the search for Ji, a witness told police Ji sent her a message in February that there were bruises on her daughter’s buttocks and she suspected her husband had abused the girl, according to a police affidavit.
Photographic evidence on an iPad allegedly showed bruises on the 1-year-old child and police wrote in the affidavit he admitted to abusing the child.
A second child endangerment charge was added by prosecutors in mid-November, accusing him of creating a risk to his daughter by separating her from her mother. Elledge has not been charged with a crime directly related to his wife’s disappearance.