Greene County prosecutor may seek death penalty for Craig Wood

Friday, February 21, 2014

Good afternoon:

According to, Greene County Prosecuting Attorney, Dan Peterson, has announced that he intends to seek the death penalty against Craig Michael Wood for the kidnap and murder of 10-year-old Hailey Owens.

If true, such an announcement is premature and improper.

For the following reasons, a prosecutor’s decision to seek the death penalty should be delayed until defense counsel has had a reasonable opportunity to prepare and submit a report regarding the evidence that it would present to a jury in support of a request for an LWOP sentence instead of the death penalty.

First, the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has ruled that the death penalty can only be imposed in some, but not all murder cases, and there is no murder, no matter how aggravated, gruesome or depraved, that automatically warrants the death penalty.

Instead, the jury or the judge in a case where the defendant waives his right to a jury trial, must decide whether to impose the death penalty by weighing evidence in aggravation (i.e, the manner in which the crime was committed and the defendant’s criminal record) against evidence in mitigation (e.g., youthful age, immaturity, developmental disability, mental illness, diminished capacity, minimal role in a multiple defendant case and absence of a criminal record are some, but not all of the factors that might call for a sentence of LWOP rather than the death penalty).

Second, since there is no murder for which the death penalty is automatic, a prosecutor’s decision to seek it should be based on a thoughtful consideration of both the aggravating and mitigating evidence in the case.

Third, since the prosecution must necessarily rely on defense counsel to discover and disclose the mitigating evidence before it decides to seek or not to seek the death penalty, it must give defense counsel an adequate period of time to prepare a mitigation report.

Pursuant to current practice in most jurisdictions, the prosecution initiates the process of deciding whether to seek the death penalty by obtaining an indictment for a death-penalty eligible murder. The prosecutor then has a specific period of time (typically at least 30 days) following the defendant’s arraignment on the charge or charges in the indictment within which to decide whether to file a notice that it intends to seek the death penalty, if the defendant is convicted of the death penalty eligible murder.

This deadline is often extended by agreement of the parties for a period of months (1) to allow the defense a reasonable opportunity to prepare a mitigation report and (2) to allow the prosecution a reasonable opportunity to review it.

A meeting usually takes place a day or so before the deadline during which lawyers for both sides discuss the relative merits and demerits of their respective positions. These meetings are surreal because they are discussions that presuppose the defendant will be convicted and focus on whether he should live or die.

Sometimes the prosecution decides not to seek the death penalty, in which case it does not file the notice.

Sometimes it does.

If followed in good faith, this process assures that the decision to seek the death penalty will not be based on a defendant’s refusal to plead guilty.

Indeed, ethical prosecutors should be opposed to using the death-penalty as a bargaining chip in plea negotiations.

Plead-guilty-as-charged-and-agree-to-a-sentence-to-life-without-possibility-of-parole (LWOP)-or-I-will-seek-the-death-penalty is extortion of the worst sort because it forces a defendant to gamble with his life, if he wants to exercise his right to a jury trial. We have seen far too many wrongful convictions of innocent people to allow a prosecutor to extort guilty pleas in premeditated murder cases.

There is one important exception to this process and that occurs when a defendant seeking to avoid the death penalty offers to plead guilty in exchange for an LWOP sentence. In this situation, the defendant’s desired outcome is an LWOP sentence and he is not being forced to accept it.

For example, in the Green River Killer case in Seattle, Gary Ridgway offered to plead guilty to 48 premeditated rape murders in exchange for providing information about the location of missing bodies. The prosecution accepted his offer, so he is serving LWOP.

Craig Michael Wood is charged with kidnapping and murdering 10-year-old Hailey Owens. This is potentially a death-penalty-eligible offense under Missouri law because it is a premeditated murder committed while engaged in a kidnapping offense and the victim was a witness or potential witness against him.

The offense probably also qualifies as a murder “outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman.”

Whether Dan Peterson has already made up his mind or will follow the process I have described in good faith or eventually use the death penalty as a bargaining chip in plea negotiations remains to be seen.

Ironically, such an offer might be quickly snapped up by the defense, if the evidence of guilt is as overwhelming as it now appears to be.

59 Responses to Greene County prosecutor may seek death penalty for Craig Wood

  1. Malisha says:

    The very idea of a “death sentence jury” is inherently and obviously unfair. What you get is a jury that is a politically identifiable group. If you were to get a jury that was similarly vetted for other political positions you can see how it would just play out. You might never be able to convict a certain “class” of prisoners or you might be able to convict another “class” of prisoners without evidence of guilt. Of course that kind of thing already happens (as we have seen) but not with such regularity and pro-prosecutor ease as the death sentence jury.

    There was a case (I have not hunted for it today so I can’t remember the name of it) where a man who had served 20 years was subject of an exoneration hearing. Although he had not received the death sentence, he had been convicted by a death sentence jury. What had happened was that the prosecutor had asked for the death sentence so they were choosing a death sentence jury. The judge (who had died by the time the exoneration case came to court) had motioned to the prosecutor one day during the jury selection process, while the court was in a recess. The prosecutor responded to the judge’s motion and entered chambers. The judge said to him, “What the Hell are you doing? Don’t you know anything?” The prosecutor was startled. The judge explained: “NO JEWS on a death jury. THEY didn’t even want to hang Eichmann. NO JEWS ON THE JURY!” Apparently the prosecutor had allowed a woman to be seated who had a very Jewish-sounding name; I believe it was Shapiro. Anyway, as the jury selection continued, the prosecutor used one of his peremptories and got rid of her.

    Years after the conviction one of the other witnesses and a jail-house snitch witness both recanted and somebody working on the case on behalf of the convict contacted the prosecutor himself, who had retired. Since the judge was dead, this retired prosecutor admitted what had happened and the defense put together a habeas corpus (nowadays they couldn’t even DO that with the change in the laws) saying the jury was unconstitutionally chosen.

    Believe it or not the man was not exonerated. There WAS evidence of actual innocence. Somebody cut a deal and paroled him so the case wouldn’t get more publicity or something. But the structure of the whole trial was based on that idea of the “death sentence jury” and what it had to consist of.

  2. degraveegmailcom says:

    Oh, pic don’t show. Well it’s a fashion pic s’all I will say.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    OT and for Crane!

  4. shyloh says:

    Back to this topic for a sec. What does the Phelps clan say this baby girl did? I have heard about them. Discusting as it is. Saw some action but but. I just don’t get these people praying on children? How terrible of them to do such a thing. There should be a law. I’d wooop some ass if they showed up around any of my members funeral. They are not Christians. Not an ounce of Christianity in them.

    What do they do. Or what will they do it’s one of their children?

    • shyloh says:

      Ok my spelling is very bad this morning. I am queen of typos. A phonix <—— speller. UGH!

    • Vicky says:

      There is no justification for what they do, however, they use their right to free speech to claim that “God’s hatred” of homosexuality is the reason bad things happen. Of course it their own hatred that drives their activities. They are a pack of litigious grifters. And, the head of their cult was both physically and emotionally abusive to his wife and children and IMO, his offspring and other family who have not left the cult are emotionally if not physically abusive to their children.

      I kid you not, when you are anywhere near that group, you can feel the evil and hate that surrounds them, and when they begin quoting scripture, if makes your skin crawl.

      I hope when Fred Phelps finally dies, the cult will as well, but I don’t see that happening. Two of his offspring have pretty much taken over and seem to thoroughly enjoy terrorizing grieving families and communities.

  5. Vicky says:

    Just as you can’t fix a pedophile or sexual predator, you can’t fix stupid. Obviously, this fool doesn’t understand that keeping a child sex offender away from children not only keeps children safer, it assists individuals responsible for managing offenders living in the community.

  6. Vicky says:

    I have a friend who grew up in Raytown. It’s so sad that those days are long gone. Kids today miss out on so much as a result of concern for their safety. No more outdoor hide and go seek. I’m glad I’m not raising kids in this day and age and feel sorry for the stress of parenting my kids go through. They can’t just tell their kids to go play. They have to be out there with them, and with people like Wood and Dunn and Zimmerman out there, that isn’t even always enough. I know bad things happened to kids in the past, but nothing like this day and age.

  7. Vicky says:

    The Lake of the Ozarks isn’t that far away from Springfield. Plenty of opportunities to prey upon peole there. Also, Branson isn’t that far away either. St. Louis and Kansas City are just a few hours away as well. Lots of hunting grounds for a single man with summers and weekends off.

    • Oops, just lost a comment, oh well. Anyhow, yes, I am familiar with Missouri actually. My roots are there, both sides, and I was born in Kansas City, lived in Raytown and then Sedalia, before moving to Oregon, as a child. Remember Lake of the Ozarks as being vast and beautiful.

      Back in those days, kids went out and played, without even a thought that a stranger would grab a child from the street or the woods. How different things are now. It is sad.

  8. bettykath says:

    From the search warrant, it looks like the detectives went through Wood’s home before getting a search warrant. If he didn’t give permission, would that possibly be a reason to throw out much of the evidence?

    • Good question.

      Unlikely because of the emergency exception to the search warrant requirement. If the police have reasonable grounds to believe that a person’s safety or life is endangered in a residence, they can enter the residence without a warrant or consent to perform a quick sweep search of the premises to look for the person.

      In this case, they will be claiming that they entered his residence to look for Hailey Owens and when they found her body in the basement, they backed out, secured the residence and applied for a search warrant.

      I would expect his lawyer will challenge the search, but this case presents a bad set of facts that will cause most judges to want to find a way to uphold the search, even if it went beyond merely looking around.

      In other words, expect result-driven rulings from elected judges in high profile murder cases involving child victims.

      • bettykath says:

        Good point. In better circumstances they would have found her bound, but alive, in the basement.

        • If the pickup had been registered in his name rather than his dad’s name, the police might have arrived in time to save her life.

          By working fast, he nearly got away with her dead body before the police arrived.

          But for the lack of duct tape, he probably would have gotten away and disposed of her body before police contacted him.


      • Plus, part of that might include the overwhelming smell of bleach.

  9. Most likely the pieces cut out of mattresses are stained with a substance that reacted positively for the presence of blood.

    If so, the stains will require confirmatory testing at the crime lab.

    DNA in dried bloodstains preserves virtually indefinitely. If they are human bloodstains, the DNA lab may be able to develop a complete nuclear STR/DNA profile or mitochondrial DNA profile that can be compared to the missing persons database for potential matches.

    Mitochondria exist outside the nucleus of a cell. They contain DNA.

    Because there is substantially more DNA in the mitochondria than the nucleus, mitichondrial DNA degrades (breaks down) more slowly than nuclear DNA.

    Unlike a complete STR/DNA profile, which is specific to a person, mitochondrial DNA is inherited from and matches a person’s mother’s DNA.

    Thus, siblings with the same mother will have identical mitochondrial DNA and all will also match the maternal grandmother.

    In the cases of many missing persons, the mother, grandmother, or a sibling have provided biological samples from which a mitochondrial DNA profile was developed to potentially identify unidentified human remains.

    If a mitochondrial DNA profile developed from a human bloodstain found at Craig Wood’s residence matched a mitochondrial DNA profile from a mother, grandmother or sibling of a missing person, it would be possible to identify the missing person as the source of the bloodstain, even if the body of the missing person is never found.

  10. After looking at that search warrant inventory, I wouldn’t be surprised, if they dug up the yard, for real.

  11. I don’t even want to think about what might be recorded on those cameras and DVDs.

  12. This is not the only murder he has committed, IMO. I believe he is a serial killer. I am very open to being wrong, but I do not believe this is the one, the only thing he has ever done. Looking at the inventory, they recovered floppy discs. Old technology. Wonder when he started.

    • Ian S says:

      The camcorders are over ten years old too. I agree with you this monster has been at it for awhile. Just ghastly to imagine what he’s done.

      • Wow. I didn’t realize that with the camcorders also. Yup. Wonder when he started. And he has been in Springfield all of his life. The same place that has an unusually large number of missing people. Just wow.

  13. Here are online images of things he had in his home, according to the search warrant inventory:

    Sony Handycam dcr-trv33

    Sony DCRTRV30

  14. concernedczen says:

    I am absolutely against the death penalty in all cases.

    This killing is absolutely horrific and it’s so sad that none of the witnesses were able to stop the kidnapping.

    It’s also just so horrible that the girl was killed within 4 hours of her kidnapping so that the police got their after she was already murdered. Poor baby and her poor family. This is just a nightmare I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

  15. J4TMinATL says:

    Thanks for sharing the interview regarding juror # 8 on the other post.

    Davis’ parents told Anderson Cooper they didn’t think was genuine.

    Her interview is frightening. 21 years old and seems as if she can’t relate to Davis and his friends. Sad.

    Also, Corey is suggesting the case will be retried in May. She wants to retry in Jacksonville. She also has spoken out about SYG and claims she thinks FL should go back to the regular self defense laws.

    • She should have done it right the first time. Now, it’s a hell of a mess. Will look at the link, and thank you!

    • Ian S says:

      Juror #8 may be right in that race was probably never overtly mentioned during deliberations. And maybe she’s telling the truth that it wasn’t on her mind. But I would bet anything that it was a significant influence on the thought processes of the jurors who apparently accepted Dunn’s claim of seeing a gun over all the evidence to the contrary. Including witness testimony that there was no gun. Accepting the claim of a single proven liar who happened to be white over the claims of three witnesses who happened to be black screams that race was a factor for those jurors.

  16. I suspect he may have committed a sex crime, since I do not believe he kidnapped Hailey for the sole purpose of killing her.

    The ligature marks on her arms and the child pornography seized by the police during the search suggest he may have committed a sex crime.

    The medical examiner likely swabbed her mouth, anus and vagina each with a sterile swab, packaged each swab separately and submitted them to the DNA lab together with a dried bloodstain obtained from her blood at the autopsy.

    A DNA analyst will be able to obtain a complete DNA profile from a small cutting obtained from the dried bloodstain (13 genetic sites, plus a sex determinant).

    A cutting from each swab will be placed in separate test tubes containing a small amount of distilled water. After soaking the swabs for a certain period of time to allow the dried biological fluid on each swab to go into solution, the analyst will remove the cuttings and spin the test tubes to collect any biological substances present at the bottom of each tube.

    After pouring off the solution, the analyst will place a portion of the residue from each tube on separate microscope slides and examine each slide for the presence of spermatozoa and female epithelial cells.

    Epithelial cells come from the lining of the vagina, anus or mouth and slough off during intercourse.

    By using a process called differential extraction, the DNA in each sample that contains spermatozoa and epithelial cells, assuming they are present, will be selectively released by first adding a mild chemical that breaks down the wall of the nucleus of every epithelial cell releasing the DNA into solution.

    The chemical is not strong enough to break down the nucleus of a sperm head and release the DNA.

    After the female DNA is extracted from the epithelial cells, the male
    DNA is released into solution by adding a stronger chemical.

    Bu using a process similar to gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (GCMS), the male and female DNA can be typed and compared to the known samples obtained from Hailey Owen’s bloodstain and a buccal swab obtained from Craig Michael Wood.

    • Good grief! Upon reviewing my comment, I realized that I forgot to mention the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) which is the biochemical process developed by Dr. Kary Mullis in 1983 to create millions of copies of a particular DNA sequence of interest.

      This process is applied to the extracted DNA enabling easy typing of the sequence of interest from a biological sample containing DNA from just a few cells.

  17. Ian S says:

    Thank you for providing more interesting details of how our legal system operates. This is a truly heinous crime but I cannot support the death penalty even here. LWOP is the appropriate sentence. Guess I’ll never be selected for the jury in a capital murder case!

    • Well, I happen to agree with you, Ian. I used to believe in the death penalty, but that was back before I knew how broken the system really is. True, there are poster children for it, as in this case, but there are also people who have been wrongly executed.

      That said, I don’t think people who oppose the death penalty can serve on juries in capital cases, because I believe, and Fred can clarify- but, I actually think the jury has to be ‘death qualified.’

      Believe it or not.

      • J4TMinATL says:

        I agree Crane I’m completely against capital punishment.

        • It won’t bring her back. Plus, LWOP is not really the cake walk that people some think it is, and some would argue that it is actually a more severe punishment. I think that is why there are actual volunteers for the death penalty- people who are convicted and sentenced, and who choose not to mount an appeal.

          That said, I do understand the outrage, because following the murder in my own family, that is how I/we all felt, at the time.

      • Yes, a scrupled juror who is opposed to the death penalty likely would be dismissed for cause during jury selection because they could not follow the court’s instructions and sentence a defendant to death if the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances.

        As a result, jurors in death penalty cases generally support the death penalty and are more likely to sentence a defendant to death than a scrupled jury or a jury that contained scrupled jurors.

        They are also more likely to convict during the guilt phase.

  18. Oh my God:

    Westboro Baptist Church plans picket at Hailey Owens vigil

    Read more:

    The Topeka, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church protests at funerals around the country, contending that U.S. soldiers and others are being struck down by God for defending a nation that tolerates homosexuality.

    • Vicky says:

      I have seen these assholes in action. They are the most vile and disgusting examples of “Christianity” gone wrong in the world. The first time I was them was back in the 90’s. I was in total shock when I saw preschool age children holding up signs they weren’t even old enough to read, much less understand. Their children are raised to hate.

      People around here just form human shields and make enough noise that they can’t be heard or seen. It really infuriates them.

      • Well, I hope that is what people do this time. Form a human shield.

        They are not a church. They are a sick, hateful cult. Shame on them for involving children. It’s child abuse, IMO.

      • dianetrotter says:

        I don’t think they are Christians at all. I think thy are hate-filled, evil people who try to use the cover as Christianity to validate they ignorance and hatred. Thank God the group is not growing.

        • Vicky says:

          They are definitely not Christians. With very few exceptions, the only members of their “congregation” are family members. Problem is, they believe in mass procreation. LOL

    • Rachael says:

      I saw this on Facebook and was sickened. Hasn’t the family been through enough? I don’t think anyone associated these effers with Christianity so I don’t think there needs to be real concern with that. I am personally not big on Christianity myself, but I would NEVER put this group of effers in with that or ANY religion. They are a bunch of sickos. How cruel and hateful can anyone get at a time like that is beyond me.

      • It’s a hate group, masquerading as a church, as far as I am concerned.

        I hope a bunch of people at the vigil form a wall and shut them out. Plus, I hope they get zero mainstream press. They feed off of it. And they deserve to fade into oblivion, as far as I am concerned. What is their sick agenda anyway? I really missed it.

        • Vicky says:

          I was just told that members of the Patriot Guard will be headed for Springfield tomorrow to assist in dealing with the Phelps clan. They line their motorcycles up in front of them and let their engines roar. It’s great to watch. Around here, the media rarely even acknowledges their presence at funerals and vigils anymore. They post their plans on their website and send out their press releases, but oftentimes don’t even show up. When they do, aside from protecting families from their presence, they are ignored.

          I don’t advocate violence, but it would be funny to see a mob open up a can of whoop ass on them, even if that is what they want so they can file a lawsuit.

  19. Child porn found at coach’s home in girl’s killing

    Officers retrieved a three-ring binder containing pornographic photos of young children at the home of Craig Michael Wood, the documents released by Springfield police say. Investigators also seized computers, cameras, 30 video recordings, handwritten journals, a spent .22 caliber shell casing and a hat believed to have been worn by fourth-grader Hailey Owens.

  20. Vicky says:

    I left this link on the other thread as well. It contains al link tothe warrant along with what was found during the search.

    • Great, thank you. As you can tell, he pulled a previous version of this post back to draft, and then posted this one. Much appreciated!

    • Surreal. What was your impression?

      • Vicky says:

        My impression is that if this monster has not offended in the past, then his diseased brain combines both the psycopathy of a pedophile/predator and a “rage killer”.
        I am opposed to the DP, but in cases such as these, I can see how one would consider it to be appropriate.
        My friend has evaluated many sex offenders while incarcerated to assess their level of threat upon release, if released. I would say Wood would score off the charts on a risk assessment.
        I know a lot of people are under the impression that sexual predators do not fare well in prison. That was true in the past, but with so many sentenced under the new laws, their numbers are growing in the prison systems and they are pretty much left alone. If they feel threatened they can hang out in protective custody.

  21. Two sides to a story says:

    Great article.

    Definitely a heinous crime, but all the legal rules involving how and when a prosecutor makes announcement of asking for the death penalty that you outline above make sense. I see no good reason for this county prosecutor to have made this announcement.

    • Malisha says:

      Strictly political.

      The comment pages were all screaming for a beheading, a public burning at the stake, blah blah blah. The same idiot crowd who said “don’t rush to judgment” in the Fogen case, hollering like hyenas that Wood does not deserve a trial and that the taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot the bill for him to get due process before being put to death in some gruesome way.

      Bizarre and unsettling.

      To me, there are a million open questions about this whole thing. Let alone that one of them is: DID HE DO THIS, and if so, what “THIS” did he do?

      The prosecutor wants to ride into some higher office on this prosecution, and probably he will, make no mistake about it.

      Meanwhile, the very early stages of reporting about this crime are not answering many questions. If it’s true that Wood had blacked out 40 or 50 times in his life, before this killing, what does THAT mean? At this point nobody knows.

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