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Missouri coach to plead not guilty in girl's death

by loco503    Feb 21, 2014, 2:36 PM

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — A middle-school football coach accused in the kidnapping and killing of a 10-year-old girl in southwest Missouri plans to plead not guilty, his public defender said in a brief hearing Friday.

Craig Michael Wood, 45, is accused of snatching Hailey Owens as she walked home from her best friend's house Tuesday evening in Springfield. Neighbors said they watched in horror as Hailey, just two blocks from her home, was pulled into a pickup truck that quickly sped away.

Court records indicate her body was found in Wood's basement, stuffed into trash bags and plastic containers. Prosecuting Attorney Dan Patterson said Hailey was shot in the back of the head and had ligature marks on her wrists, suggesting she was tied up.

An autopsy is pending.

At the brief Friday morning arraignment, Public defender Chris Hatley said Wood plans to contest the charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping and armed criminal action in the fourth-grader's death.

Wood appeared via video from the Greene County Jail, where he is being held without bond. He spoke only briefly to answer several questions from the judge. Hailey's parents, older brother and five other family members also attended.

Assistant prosecutor Todd Myers challenged Wood's use of a public defender after he said police found evidence of a $1 million trust in Wood's name.

"I think he can afford his own attorney," Myers said.

Hatley replied that he appreciated the prosecutor's concern for Wood's rights but that "it's frankly none of his business."

Circuit Judge Dan Imhof said he would consider the matter. He scheduled a follow-up court appearance in March and a preliminary hearing in April.

Wood was a 16-year football coach at a middle school in Springfield, about 160 miles southeast of Kansas City. He also worked as a substitute teacher and teacher's aide overseeing suspensions.

Police said they found Wood holding duct tape as he left his father's pickup truck parked outside his home Tuesday night, just hours after Hailey went missing. Court records indicate the floor of the basement where the girl's body was found was still damp with bleach — presumably used to clean the crime scene.

Patterson has said he would consider seeking the death penalty.

Wood had little criminal history, according to online court records. He pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance in 1990 in Greene County and was fined $100. Wood also was convicted in 2001 for illegal taking of wildlife, a misdemeanor. Friends said Wood is an amateur musician and avid hunter.

Police spokeswoman Lisa Cox said there is no indication that Wood is a suspect in any other violent crime involving children.

At least three people told police they saw the pickup truck drive back and forth along the street before the driver stopped to ask Hailey directions, then he dragged her inside the vehicle. One homeowner gave chase on foot and another in his car.

Family and friends recalled a child who loved to laugh, smile and dance.

"She was pure gold," said her aunt, Sara Wells.

Gary Tew, principal at Westport Elementary School, said Hailey was a "happy-go-lucky kiddo" who made sure new students felt welcome and belonged to an afterschool club that taught character lessons through a local church. He said he last saw her on Valentine's Day, recalling her enthusiastic dancing at a class party.

Thousands are expected to attend a candlelight vigil in her honor Saturday night.

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