COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri man convicted of killing his wife, burying her body and lying to authorities about her whereabouts pleaded guilty Tuesday to child abuse charges involving the couple’s young daughter.
Joseph Elledge had originally pleaded not guilty to child abuse, child endangerment and domestic assault, KMIZ-TV reported.
Elledge, 26, was convicted in November of killing his 28-year-old wife, Mengqi Ji, a Chinese woman he married while they were studying at the University of Missouri. He was sentenced in January to 28 years in prison.
Elledge was charged with child abuse in October 2019, shortly after he reported his wife missing. In the probable cause statement supporting the charges, detectives said Elledge struck the toddler on the buttocks hard enough to cause severe bruising. Investigators found pictures and videos of the bruising on an iPad, according to the document.
Murder charges weren’t filed against Elledge until February 2020. His wife’s body was found in March 2021.
During the murder trial, Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight sought a first-degree murder conviction, calling Elledge a “stone cold killer.”
He said Elledge hid his wife’s body in the trunk of his car on Oct. 8, 2019, and didn’t call authorities for two days, after he had driven — with their child in the car — to Rock Bridge State Park about 5 miles (8 kilometers) south of Columbia and buried her.
Elledge’s attorneys argued that Ji’s death was accidental, saying she slipped and hit her head after he pushed her during an argument. Elledge admitted during testimony that he had buried his wife’s body because he panicked after he found her dead in bed and needed time to decide what to do.
Ji earned a master’s degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering from the University of Missouri in December 2014. Elledge was a student at the university when his wife died.