COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — The attorney for a Missouri man accused of killing his Chinese wife in 2019 said Tuesday that the woman's death was a “tragic accident” that was caused when she fell and hit her head during an argument with her husband.
During opening statements in Joseph Elledge's first-degree murder trial, defense attorney Scott Rosenblum said Elledge and his 28-year-old wife, Mengqi Ji, were arguing on Oct. 9, 2019, at their home in Columbia because he believed she was having an affair.
He said Ji pushed Elledge first and he then shoved her, causing her to fall and hit her head. Ji was able to get up and go to bed, where Elledge found her dead early the next day. Rosenblum attributed her death to a subdural hematoma, which is a build up of blood on the brain, KOMU reported.
Rosenblum acknowledged that Elledge made a series of bad decisions when he decided not to call for help, instead putting his wife's body in the trunk of his car. But he said the evidence will show Elledge did not intend to kill his wife.
Elledge plans to testify in his own defense during the trial, Rosenblum said.
Elledge reported Ji missing on Oct. 10, 2019, prompting numerous searches before her remains were found March 25 this year in a remote area of Rock Bridge State Park about 5 miles (8 kilometers) south of Columbia.
Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight said in his opening statement that Elledge mistreated his wife throughout their marriage and on the night she died. He said Elledge and his mother worked together to ensure that Ji did what Elledge wanted, KRCG-TV reported.
Knight told the jury they would hear more than nine hours of recordings of the couple arguing, some that were made by Elledge and others by Ji.
The first recording was played Tuesday afternoon. The nearly hour-long recording of a phone conversation included Elledge chastising Ji for eating “like a pig" and repeatedly swearing at her and criticizing her mother. Ji is heard sobbing.
Elledge also asked: “Do you want me to leave? I’ll leave and never come back. I’m not happy here. Do you want me leave here? Tell me.”
Ji responded, “No.”
In his opening statement, Knight said Elledge recorded reasons why he hated his wife in a journal titled "Grievances." And he said Elledge had a notebook that outlined how he should behave toward the media concerning his wife's disappearance.
The prosecutor also said Elledge spent 30 minutes digging a grave in Rock Bridge State Park, where Ji's body was found. The grave was a half a mile from where he had proposed to her, Knight said.
Ji came to the U.S. from China and earned a master’s degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering from the University of Missouri in December 2014. She previously attended the East China University of Science and Technology in Shanghai.
She stayed in Columbia and married Elledge, who was a student at the University of Missouri, in 2017.