Because of “substantial media buzz” about Joseph Elledge’s case, the defendant’s attorney is seeking a change of venue for Elledge’s February trial on child abuse charges.

In a court filing Friday, his attorney John P. O’Connor said more than 10 local civil and criminal lawyers he personally talked with advised him that the intense coverage in this case is like no other case in Boone County more than 25 years.

“If this case is tried with a Boone County jury, during jury selection, Mr. Elledge will be handicapped with a venue already prejudiced against him because of the substantial media buzz surrounding his case,” the attorney said in the change of venue motion.

O’Connor added that because prosecuting attorney Dan Knight has publicly identified Elledge as the prime suspect in the disappearance of his wife, Mengqi Ji Elledge, that will influence the trial as well. Knight made the comment during a court hearing on Elledge’s request that his $500,000 bond be lowered.

“Media coverage in this case has been constant and on a daily basis regarding the search for the defendant’s wife,” O’Connor wrote in the motion.

The attorney collected 71 exhibits of media coverage, which he said “not only in terms of the volume ... but the amount of information and prejudicial information ... will prevent (Elledge) from getting a fair trial in Columbia.”

O’Connor also collected and filed four exhibits social media comments that he said displayed animosity towards the defendant.

According to previous Missourian reporting, Joseph Elledge has been charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child and one count of abuse or neglect of a child and no longer has custody of his daughter.

A pretrial conference date has been set for Feb. 10 and the trial will be held Feb. 25.

O’Connor noted in the filing that he had failed to make the motion within 10 days of the initial plea being entered by Elledge. But he argued that the court still has the authority to rule favorably on the request and move the trial.

O’Connor cited a ruling in an earlier state case noting that, “Though the existence of news coverage about a case does not automatically prejudice the jury and necessitate change of venue, supplementary evidence demonstrating a ‘wave of public passion’ increases the likelihood that a change of venue is necessary to avoid infringing on the defendant’s rights.”

Authorities last week resumed the search of the Lamine River near Boonville for the body of Mengqi Ji Elledge.

Supervising editor is Fred Anklam Jr.

  • Columbia Missourian reporter, winter 2019 Studying investigative journalism Reach me at ztvy3@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5720

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