Testimony ends in Missouri man’s trial in wife’s death

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri man repeatedly denied suggestions from prosecutors Wednesday that he fatally injured his wife by jumping on her back or strangling her during an argument two years ago.

Joseph Elledge testified for the second day in his first-degree murder trial in the death of 28-year-old Mengi Ji, who he married after she came to the U.S. from China to study at the University of Missouri.

The defense rested its case Wednesday afternoon, and closing arguments were scheduled to begin Thursday morning.

During nearly eight hours of testimony on Tuesday, Elledge said Ji died after she hit her head when he pushed her during an argument on Oct. 8, 2019. He said she went to bed and that he discovered her dead the next morning.

On Wednesday, Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight suggested during cross-examination that Ji died when Elledge hurt her during an argument that began when he was giving her a massage, KOMU-TV reported.

At one point, Knight asked, “Do you want to tell the jury how you really killed your wife, Joe?”

The prosecution accused Elledge of strangling Ji on the bed. Knight noted urine was found on the sheets, adding that people often urinate when being killed or strangled.

“Did you jump on top of her back? Did you strangle her?” Knight asked. Elledge repeatedly denied hurting Ji during the massage.

JI’s remains, which were found in a park near Columbia in March, had three broken ribs. Elledge’s defense attorney has suggested the ribs were broken when animals stepped on her remains.

Evidence presented during the trial has detailed the couple’s difficult and deteriorating relationship, which was marked by frequent arguments. Elledge testified that he and his wife were both considering divorce.

Elledge has admitted that he put his wife’s body in the trunk of her car after she died and waited nearly two days before driving to Rock Bridge State Park about 5 miles (8 kilometers) south of Columbia with the couple’s young daughter in the vehicle.

He said he dug a grave and buried her and reported her missing after he returned home.

Knight said Elledge put their daughter to bed and “played upbeat music” because he was “happy a problem was off his hands.” Elledge responded that he played the music to soothe his daughter.

Elledge also acknowledged that he sent a text to Ji’s phone that night because “I thought people would expect me to do that.”

After Elledge testified, Keith Norton, a forensic pathologist at the Boone County Medical Examiner’s Office who performed Ji’s autopsy, testified that he was “not able to find a cause of death” but had confirmed that her death “was caused by another person.”

Norton said it was “highly unlikely” that the three broken ribs he found on Ji’s body were broken by a fall in the couple’s home.

Defense attorneys have argued that Ji died from a subdural hematoma after she was pushed by Elledge in the couple’s kitchen. Norton said a subdural hematoma, which is a buildup of blood between the skull and the brain, can occur from a fall and can be fatal.

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