Man to plead not guilty in Missouri girl's kidnap, murder - defense

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 21, 2014 2:05 PM

By Kevin Murphy

(Reuters) - A 7th grade football coach was ordered held without bail on Friday and will plead not guilty to the kidnapping and murder of a girl snatched from a Missouri street, his lawyer said.

Craig Michael Wood, accused of the abduction on Tuesday of 10-year-old Hailey Owens from a neighborhood in Springfield, Missouri, made his first court appearance on Friday over a video monitor from the Greene County Jail.

Wood, 45, was formally charged in Greene County Associate Court on Friday with murder, child abduction and armed criminal action. He was ordered held without bond and a preliminary hearing in the case was set for April 7.

Police said they found Hailey's body early on Wednesday, in a plastic storage tote in Wood's basement, with a bullet wound to her head.

Wood's public defender, Christopher Hatley, said in court that Wood would plead not guilty, although no official plea was received by the court on Friday, according to a clerk and court records. Hatley told Reuters in an interview later that a formal plea was required at the next hearing.

Wood was a paraprofessional and 7th grade coach of boys' football and basketball at a Springfield K-8 school, according to a spokeswoman for the public school system. Hailey attended a different school, and there was no evidence she was acquainted with Wood, authorities said.

The question of whether Wood was indigent enough to need a court-paid lawyer had arisen in court. Prosecutor Todd Myers said investigators searching his Springfield home found signs of a $1 million trust in his name, according to Hatley and a lawyer for Wood's family, Joseph Passanise, who attended the hearing. Myers said Wood should hire his own private attorney.

But Passanise told Reuters in a telephone interview after attending the hearing that Wood met the indigent standard required to get a public defender.

"To my knowledge, there is no trust fund," Passanise said.

Jeff Ward, who played high school football with Wood, said he was stunned by the charges. Ward said Wood was intelligent and seemed to have come from a good home, with parents who treated him well.

"He was the last person I thought would do something like this," Ward said.

Wood had a girlfriend in high school but not in recent years, and never had children, Ward said.

"I think he kept to himself a lot," Ward said.

Ward said he and Wood played in a local rock band after high school, with Wood on the guitar. Wood has since played mandolin with another local band and also liked to hunt deer, Ward said.

Wood's parents, Jim and Genie Wood, live in Ash Grove, Missouri, just outside of Springfield. Jim Wood is a retired teacher and his wife a nurse, according to a statement Passanise issued on their behalf Thursday night.

"This unexpected incident involving their son, Craig, has been a shock and they are grieving," the statement said. "They join the rest of the community in praying as their hearts pour out to the Owens family."

A candlelight vigil and march is planned in Hailey's memory in Springfield on Saturday evening, according to Springfield police and a Facebook page set up for the event.

Several fundraisers are also under way for Hailey's family.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Bernadette Baum)