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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – 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.
Forty-five-year-old Craig Michael Wood appeared on video in Greene County Court at 8:30 a.m.
According to KOLR, a Greene County prosecutor challenged Wood’s request for a public defender after police 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 death of fourth-grader Hailey Owens.
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. Owens’ 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.
Police said Owens was snatched off a neighborhood street Tuesday afternoon less than two blocks from her home as she walked back from her best friend’s house.
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.
Authorities said Owens’ body was then found stuffed inside two garbage bags in a basement. According to court documents, the garbage bags were found inside the bottom of two totes stacked on top of each other.
“The crime scene technicians removed the trash bags and confirmed it was the body of Owens,” according to the charging document.
Authorities determined Owens appeared to have a single gunshot wound to the head and a spent .22-caliber casing was found in the basement. There were also apparent ligature marks on her wrists, suggesting she was tied up.
An autopsy is pending.
Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Patterson said he would seek the death penalty.
According to the probable cause statement, a woman was in her garage around 4:45 p.m. Tuesday when she saw Wood’s Ford Ranger pull up to Owens and ask her where Springfield Street was. The witness said Hailey tried to walk away from the vehicle, but Wood opened the door of his truck and said “Hey, come here for a minute,” extending his hand to her, motioning for her to come over.
The witness said Wood lunged out of the vehicle and grabbed Owens with his left hand and threw her into the truck “like a rag doll.” He then drove away from the scene at a high rate of speed. According to court documents, it’s believed Owens was walking home from a friend’s house.
Several neighbors unsuccessfully attempted to rescue the child, chasing the suspect on foot and by car.
Wood has worked for the Springfield school district since 1998 as a coach, substitute teacher and teacher’s aide.
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.
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.