Missouri man who buried wife's body convicted of her murder

Defendant Joseph Elledge testifies how he carried his wife Mengqi Ji's body to her car after he found her dead in the couple's apartment in Oct. 2019, during his murder trial Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Columbia, Mo. Elledge is accused of killing his 28-year-old wife, whom he reported missing in October 2019. Her remains were found in March in a park near Columbia, Mo. (Don Shrubshell/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP, Pool)
Caption
Defendant Joseph Elledge testifies how he carried his wife Mengqi Ji's body to her car after he found her dead in the couple's apartment in Oct. 2019, during his murder trial Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Columbia, Mo. Elledge is accused of killing his 28-year-old wife, whom he reported missing in October 2019. Her remains were found in March in a park near Columbia, Mo. (Don Shrubshell/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP, Pool)

Credit: Don Shrubshell

Credit: Don Shrubshell

A Missouri man has been found guilty of killing his wife, whose remains were not found for more than a year

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri man who admitted to burying his wife's body and misleading authorities for more than a year about her whereabouts was convicted Thursday of second-degree murder.

After deliberating for almost seven hours, a jury found Joseph Elledge guilty in the killing of 28-year-old Mengqi Ji, whom he married after she moved to the U.S. from China to study at the University of Missouri.

Elledge reported Ji missing in October 2019, prompting months of extensive searches. Her remains were found in a park near Columbia, Missouri, in March.

Elledge was charged with first-degree murder, but Circuit Judge J. Hasbrouck Jacobs told jurors they could consider charges of second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and first-degree or second-degree involuntary manslaughter. Elledge was acquitted of the first-degree murder charge.

First-degree murder requires the state to prove that Elledge killed Ji intentionally after deliberating about it, and Elledge’s intent was central to arguments throughout the trial.

The jury will hear evidence from both sides and recommend a sentence to the judge, according to KMIZ-TV. Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight has asked for life in prison, while Elledge's attorney, Scott Rosenblum, is asking for 10 years, the news station reported. The judge's sentence can't exceed what the jury recommends.

An attorney for Ji's family told the Columbia Daily Tribune before the trial started that they didn't plan to provide a statement, but said on Wednesday they're pleased with Knight's efforts.

During closing arguments on Thursday, Knight told the jury that Elledge was a “stone cold killer” who was guilty of first-degree murder because he intentionally killed his wife.

Rosenblum argued that his client was awkward and made “unbelievably dumb” decisions after she died. But he said Elledge never intended to kill his wife and should never have been charged with murder.

During his trial, Elledge said Ji's death was accidental. He said she fell and hit her head on Oct. 8, 2019, after he pushed her during an argument and he found her dead in bed the next morning. He said he panicked, put her body in the trunk of her car and did not report what happened while he tried to decide what to do.

He did not tell anyone, including Ji’s mother, about her disappearance.

On Oct. 10, with the couple’s young daughter in the car, Elledge drove to Rock Bridge State Park about 5 miles (8 kilometers) south of Columbia, where they lived. There, he dug a grave and buried Ji at a site a half-mile from where he proposed to her. He then returned home and reported her missing.

Prosecutors used social media posts, audio tapes and a journal Elledge kept to document the couple’s volatile relationship. The evidence showed them frequently yelling at each other and arguing, with Elledge often criticizing his wife for her appearance and for how she treated him.

Elledge said that in the days before her death, he discovered Ji had been exchanging sexually suggestive messages with a man from China via social media. He also testified that the couple’s relationship suffered because of tension caused by her parents who moved from China to live with them after their daughter was born on Oct. 3, 2018.

The couple met in 2015 at Nanova, a company that makes dental products, where Ji was Elledge’s supervisor. They began dating the following year and eventually traveled to China, where he asked Ji’s parents for permission to marry her. The couple married in 2017.

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.

Caption
Defendant Joseph Elledge smiles at family members as he walks into the courtroom before closing arguments in his murder trial on Thursday Nov. 11, 2021, in Columbia, Mo. Elledge is accused of killing his 28-year-old wife, whom he reported missing in October 2019. Her remains were found in March in a park near Columbia, Mo. (Don Shrubshell/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP, Pool)

Credit: Don Shrubshell

Defendant Joseph Elledge smiles at family members as he walks into the courtroom before closing arguments in his murder trial on Thursday Nov. 11, 2021, in Columbia, Mo.  Elledge is accused of killing his 28-year-old wife, whom he reported missing in October 2019. Her remains were found in March in a park near Columbia, Mo. (Don Shrubshell/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP, Pool)
Caption
Defendant Joseph Elledge smiles at family members as he walks into the courtroom before closing arguments in his murder trial on Thursday Nov. 11, 2021, in Columbia, Mo. Elledge is accused of killing his 28-year-old wife, whom he reported missing in October 2019. Her remains were found in March in a park near Columbia, Mo. (Don Shrubshell/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP, Pool)

Credit: Don Shrubshell

Credit: Don Shrubshell

Caption
Defense attorney Scott Rosenblum presents his closing argument during murder trial of Joseph Elledge on Thursday Nov. 11, 2021, in Columbia, Mo. Elledge is accused of killing his 28-year-old wife, whom he reported missing in October 2019. Her remains were found in March in a park near Columbia, Mo. (Don Shrubshell/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP, Pool)

Credit: Don Shrubshell

Defense attorney Scott Rosenblum presents his closing argument during murder trial of Joseph Elledge on Thursday Nov. 11, 2021, in Columbia, Mo.  Elledge is accused of killing his 28-year-old wife, whom he reported missing in October 2019. Her remains were found in March in a park near Columbia, Mo. (Don Shrubshell/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP, Pool)
Caption
Defense attorney Scott Rosenblum presents his closing argument during murder trial of Joseph Elledge on Thursday Nov. 11, 2021, in Columbia, Mo. Elledge is accused of killing his 28-year-old wife, whom he reported missing in October 2019. Her remains were found in March in a park near Columbia, Mo. (Don Shrubshell/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP, Pool)

Credit: Don Shrubshell

Credit: Don Shrubshell

Caption
Boone County, Mo. Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight presents his closing argument during murder trial of Joseph Elledge on Thursday Nov. 11, 2021, in Columbia, Mo. Elledge is accused of killing his 28-year-old wife, whom he reported missing in October 2019. Her remains were found in March in a park near Columbia, Mo. (Don Shrubshell/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP, Pool)

Credit: Don Shrubshell

Boone County, Mo. Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight presents his closing argument during murder trial of Joseph Elledge on Thursday Nov. 11, 2021, in Columbia, Mo.  Elledge is accused of killing his 28-year-old wife, whom he reported missing in October 2019. Her remains were found in March in a park near Columbia, Mo. (Don Shrubshell/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP, Pool)
Caption
Boone County, Mo. Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight presents his closing argument during murder trial of Joseph Elledge on Thursday Nov. 11, 2021, in Columbia, Mo. Elledge is accused of killing his 28-year-old wife, whom he reported missing in October 2019. Her remains were found in March in a park near Columbia, Mo. (Don Shrubshell/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP, Pool)

Credit: Don Shrubshell

Credit: Don Shrubshell

Caption
Defendant Joseph Elledge testifies how he pushed his wife Mengqi Ji, during a shoving match before she fell and hit her head in Oct. 2019 during his murder trial Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Columbia, Mo. Elledge is accused of killing his 28-year-old wife, whom he reported missing in October 2019. Her remains were found in March in a park near Columbia, Mo. (Don Shrubshell/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP, Pool)

Credit: Don Shrubshell

Defendant Joseph Elledge testifies how he pushed his wife Mengqi Ji, during a shoving match before she fell and hit her head in Oct. 2019 during his murder trial Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Columbia, Mo. Elledge is accused of killing his 28-year-old wife, whom he reported missing in October 2019. Her remains were found in March in a park near Columbia, Mo. (Don Shrubshell/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP, Pool)
Caption
Defendant Joseph Elledge testifies how he pushed his wife Mengqi Ji, during a shoving match before she fell and hit her head in Oct. 2019 during his murder trial Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Columbia, Mo. Elledge is accused of killing his 28-year-old wife, whom he reported missing in October 2019. Her remains were found in March in a park near Columbia, Mo. (Don Shrubshell/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP, Pool)

Credit: Don Shrubshell

Credit: Don Shrubshell

Caption
Keith Norton, a forensic pathologist for the Boone and Calloway County Medical Examiner's Office, testifies during Joseph Elledge murder trial, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Columbia, Mo. Elledge is accused of killing his 28-year-old wife, whom he reported missing in October 2019. Her remains were found in March in a park near Columbia, Mo. (Madeline Carter/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP, Pool)

Credit: Madeline Carter

Keith Norton, a forensic pathologist for the Boone and Calloway County Medical Examiner's Office, testifies during Joseph Elledge murder trial, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Columbia, Mo. Elledge is accused of killing his 28-year-old wife, whom he reported missing in October 2019. Her remains were found in March in a park near Columbia, Mo. (Madeline Carter/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP, Pool)
Caption
Keith Norton, a forensic pathologist for the Boone and Calloway County Medical Examiner's Office, testifies during Joseph Elledge murder trial, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Columbia, Mo. Elledge is accused of killing his 28-year-old wife, whom he reported missing in October 2019. Her remains were found in March in a park near Columbia, Mo. (Madeline Carter/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP, Pool)

Credit: Madeline Carter

Credit: Madeline Carter

Caption
Defense attorney Scott Rosenblum inspects a poster board full of photos taken by the Columbia Police at Joseph Elledge's apartment after his arrest during Elledge's murder trial, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Columbia, Mo. Elledge is accused of killing his 28-year-old wife, whom he reported missing in October 2019. Her remains were found in March in a park near Columbia, Mo. (Madeline Carter/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP, Pool)

Credit: Madeline Carter

Defense attorney Scott Rosenblum inspects a poster board full of photos taken by the Columbia Police at Joseph Elledge's apartment after his arrest during Elledge's murder trial, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Columbia, Mo. Elledge is accused of killing his 28-year-old wife, whom he reported missing in October 2019. Her remains were found in March in a park near Columbia, Mo. (Madeline Carter/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP, Pool)
Caption
Defense attorney Scott Rosenblum inspects a poster board full of photos taken by the Columbia Police at Joseph Elledge's apartment after his arrest during Elledge's murder trial, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Columbia, Mo. Elledge is accused of killing his 28-year-old wife, whom he reported missing in October 2019. Her remains were found in March in a park near Columbia, Mo. (Madeline Carter/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP, Pool)

Credit: Madeline Carter

Credit: Madeline Carter

Caption
Defendant Joseph Elledge points to a photo under questioning from Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight during his murder trial Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Columbia, Mo. Elledge is accused of killing his 28-year-old wife Mengqi Ji, whom he reported missing in October 2019. Her remains were found in March in a park near Columbia, Mo. (Don Shrubshell/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP, Pool)

Credit: Don Shrubshell

Defendant Joseph Elledge points to a photo under questioning from Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight during his murder trial Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Columbia, Mo. Elledge is accused of killing his 28-year-old wife Mengqi Ji, whom he reported missing in October 2019. Her remains were found in March in a park near Columbia, Mo. (Don Shrubshell/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP, Pool)
Caption
Defendant Joseph Elledge points to a photo under questioning from Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight during his murder trial Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Columbia, Mo. Elledge is accused of killing his 28-year-old wife Mengqi Ji, whom he reported missing in October 2019. Her remains were found in March in a park near Columbia, Mo. (Don Shrubshell/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP, Pool)

Credit: Don Shrubshell

Credit: Don Shrubshell

Caption
Defendant Joseph Elledge looks at a card that chronicles he and his wife Mungqi Ji's relationship and marriage during cross examination by Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight during his murder trial Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Columbia, Mo. Elledge is accused of killing his 28-year-old wife Mengqi Ji, whom he reported missing in October 2019. Her remains were found in March in a park near Columbia, Mo. (Don Shrubshell/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP, Pool)

Credit: Don Shrubshell

Defendant Joseph Elledge looks at a card that chronicles he and his wife Mungqi Ji's relationship and marriage during cross examination by Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight during his murder trial Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Columbia, Mo. Elledge is accused of killing his 28-year-old wife Mengqi Ji, whom he reported missing in October 2019. Her remains were found in March in a park near Columbia, Mo. (Don Shrubshell/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP, Pool)
Caption
Defendant Joseph Elledge looks at a card that chronicles he and his wife Mungqi Ji's relationship and marriage during cross examination by Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight during his murder trial Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Columbia, Mo. Elledge is accused of killing his 28-year-old wife Mengqi Ji, whom he reported missing in October 2019. Her remains were found in March in a park near Columbia, Mo. (Don Shrubshell/Columbia Daily Tribune via AP, Pool)

Credit: Don Shrubshell

Credit: Don Shrubshell