SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) - A youth football coach charged with killing a 10-year-old Springfield girl who was kidnapped just two blocks from her home could face the death penalty if convicted, a southwest Missouri prosecutor said Friday.
Greene County Prosecutor Dan Patterson announced that he will pursue the death penalty against Craig Michael Wood, 46, who is accused of raping and killing fourth-grader Hailey Owens in February after throwing her into his pickup truck while she walked home from her best friend’s house.
Patterson said Hailey’s death was “outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved torture, or depravity of mind,” one of the legal standards known as aggravated circumstances required to seek death in first-degree murder cases in Missouri.
Wood has pleaded not guilty and remains jailed without bond. He is charged with murder, kidnapping, rape, sodomy and armed criminal action in connection with Hailey’s death. Her body was found wrapped in trash bags inside a storage bin in Wood’s basement.
The Springfield News-Leader reports that the last Missouri execution for a Greene County conviction was 25 years ago, when George “Tiny” Mercer was killed by lethal injection for the 1978 rape and strangulation death of a Kansas City area waitress. Mercer’s execution was Missouri’s first after a nationwide moratorium on capital punishment was lifted in 1976.
Wood was a 16-year football coach at a Springfield middle school. He also worked as a substitute teacher and teacher’s aide overseeing suspensions. A police search of his home found child pornography and more than a dozen guns, according to search warrants.
Woods’ next court appearance is in late August, with a trial not expected for another year. He also faces a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Hailey’s biological parents.