A man accused of kidnapping and killing a 10-year-old girl from Springfield walked into a courtroom for the first time on what undoubtedly will be a long legal process. Craig Wood of Springfield was present as his defense attorney and prosecutors met with a judge to debate some of the procedures in his case.
Wood is accused of grabbing Hailey Owens off a street on Feb. 18, putting her in his pickup, and shooting her in the back of the head at his home within four hours. He's in the Greene County jail with no bond as he awaits a preliminary hearing at which a judge will decide whether there's enough evidence to send his case to trial. In his initial court appearance in February, Wood appeared before the judge by a video/audio link from the jail.
At the motions hearing on Wednesday morning, Greene County Associate Circuit Judge Mark Powell ruled Wood may appear in court in street clothes and without visible shackles. Defense attorney Pat Berrigan, a member of the Public Defender's Capital Case Division, said it is important for potential jurors to see Wood in street clothes rather than a jail uniform to try to avoid forming an immediate opinion that he's guilty.
In arguing against Wood being in street clothes, Prosecuting Attorney Dan Patterson said there's "no reason to treat him differently than any other inmate."
A previous defense attorney had indicated Wood might continue to attend court hearings by the video/audio hookup. Powell said he wants Wood to be in his courtroom.
"I'm going to treat this like any other case,” Powell said. “I don't want to talk behind his back. I want him to be here."
Powell also ruled news organizations could have a still camera and a video camera in the hearing. He didn't rule on news cameras in future hearings, but indicated he probably will allow a still camera and a video camera with no audio recording.
The issue is whether news reports with audio of the proceedings might unduly prejudice potential jurors before the case goes to trial. Defense attorneys oppose cameras in the courtroom, especially a TV camera, because they don't want to have the case moved to another county because of widespread publicity and preformed opinions about the case by potential jurors.
Berrigan said he was disappointed reporters were in the courtroom at all.
"It's a pretty high profile case. The media has been interested, the community has been interested,” the judge replied.
When talking about reporters covering the case, Berrigan said there's "danger here" and that the "opportunity to get a fair jury is substantially reduced." It's Wood's right to "pick a jury in the town where he lives and grew up,” Berrigan said.
At the hearing, prosecutors opposed a motion by Wood's defense attorney that all proceedings in Powell's court be recorded or fully transcribed so that an appeals court someday might have a full record of the hearings. Powell ruled in favor of the defense motion and said a closed circuit camera would record all the proceedings while the case is in his court.
Prosecutors also opposed a defense motion "for discovery prior to preliminary hearing." That's a request that defense attorneys receive a greater amount of information about the evidence against their client than is normally available to them at this stage of the legal proceedings. Powell ruled against the defense on that issue.
The state has an "unusual advantage" in holding back evidence from Wood prior to the preliminary hearing, Berrigan said. Powell ruled, however, that Appeals Court rulings go against defense requests for early discovery.
Prosecutors asked for a delay in the scheduled preliminary hearing. Prosecutors said the Greene County medical examiner would not be available to testify about Hailey's autopsy on April 2. Powell rescheduled the preliminary hearing for April 24.
About 50 spectators were at the hearing, including Hailey's mother and stepfather, Stacy and Jeff Barfield, and other family members. They sat in the front row of the gallery.
"Any trial, especially a case like this, is going to be difficult, extremely difficult on a family," said Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Patterson.
Wood is charged with first-degree murder, child kidnapping and armed criminal action. He looks a lot different now than his first mug shot after his arrest. He had long hair then. Now he has more of a buzz cut and a clean-shaven face.
Prosecutors will decide later whether to seek a death penalty if Wood is convicted of first-degree murder. A document released by the Missouri Department of Social Services on Tuesday said Wood is suspected of possibly sexually abusing Hailey, whom he apparently had never met before she was kidnapped.
Prosecutors have not said anything about sexual abuse in their public statements or court documents, although sexual abuse would be an aggravating circumstance under state law that could allow a jury to sentence him to death.
The reports about the possible sexual abuse upset the defense attorney.
“He’s not even charged with that,” Berrigan said.
Prosecutors are awaiting full autopsy results.
"The charges right now are first-degree murder, armed criminal action, and child kidnapping. We are waiting to receive the investigation, and based upon our review, yes, the charges might change, but we don't want to speculate about what those additional charges might be," Patterson said after the hearing.
Patterson said he would personally lead prosecution of this case rather than handing it off to an assistant prosecuting attorney.