The Missouri Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in Jefferson City in the case of a prisoner who’s appealing his death sentence for killing a Springfield child in 2014.
51-year-old Craig Wood was convicted of first degree murder and was sentenced to death for killing ten-year-old Hailey Owens.
The court heard about 50 minutes of arguments and asked numerous questions of both attorneys.
Wood’s public defender, Rosemary Percival, tells the Supreme Court that Missouri’s “death penalty scheme” is unconstitutional, because it allows a judge to impose a death sentence when the jury is not unanimous.
“Even the staunchest of death penalty states, states like Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, now mandate that no defendant go to his death but by the unanimous vote of the jury,” Percival says.
Percival is asking the Missouri Supreme Court to overturn Wood’s death sentence and instead sentence him to life in prison, without the possibility of parole.
She tells the Supreme Court’s seven judges that Missouri and Indiana are the only two states that allow a judge to impose a death sentence after jurors could not.
“And so I ask the court to strike this deadlock provision and order that Mr. Wood receive a sentence of life without parole,” says Percival.
Defense attorneys admitted in court in August 2017 that Wood kidnapped, raped and killed Owens, who was walking home from a friend’s house when the February 2014 abduction happened.
Greene County Judge Thomas Mountjoy sentenced Wood to death, after jurors were not unanimous about the death sentence.
The “Springfield News-Leader”, quoting the jury foreman at the time, has reported that 10 jurors supported the death sentence and that two favored life in prison without parole.
The jury was selected in western Missouri’s Platte County and transported to Springfield for the trial. The jury was chosen there because of the large news media coverage the case received in Springfield.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Assistant Attorney General Daniel McPherson filed a 106-page brief in response to Percival’s argument.
McPherson tells the State Supreme Court that Missouri’s statute allowing a judge to impose a death sentence when the jury deadlocks is constitutional.
The Attorney General’s office writes that the Missouri Supreme Court “has repeatedly found that procedure to be constitutional.”
Percival also says Judge Mountjoy should not have overruled defense attorneys’ objection to Greene County Prosecutor Dan Patterson’s closing argument that the jury, in sentencing Wood to death, would speak for Hailey Owens and her family.
Mr. McPherson addressed that issue before the Supreme Court.
“If the prosecutor had explicitly argued that the family demands the death penalty or they want you to impose the death penalty, you’d certainly have a more problematic situation,” McPherson says.
Schmitt and McPherson, in their court filing, write that Patterson’s argument was an appeal to the jury to uphold the law and not an argument that Owens’ family desired the death penalty.
Springfield Police found Hailey Owens’ body in a plastic tub in Craig Wood’s basement. Court documents say Hailey Owens died from a gunshot wound to the back of her neck.
Wood, who’s incarcerated at the maximum-security Potosi Correctional Center in Mineral Point, was not in the courtroom on Tuesday.
A Missourinet reporter covering the Jefferson City hearing did not see Hailey Owens’ family nor Craig Wood’s parents in court.
The Missouri Supreme Court has not announced when it will rule in the case.
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