The trial for Joseph Elledge, who is being held on child abuse and murder charges, could completely shift gears.

COLUMBIA - Police confirmed Tuesday that the remains found at Rock Bridge State Park this month were those of Mengqi Ji, who went missing on October 10, 2019.

With this new evidence, the trial for Joseph Elledge, who is being held on child abuse and murder charges pertaining to this case, could completely shift gears.

Local Defense Attorney Ben Faber said this discovery could change the route the defense takes in explaining Mengqi Ji's death.

"It really (cuts) out the possibility that the defense could claim that she, for example, ran off," Faber said. "You would think that that would be kind of a natural defense when there's no body that can be used to prove that the person's actually dead."

Faber said the defense will have to shift to other explanations now that Ji is confirmed dead.

"I would expect them now to pivot towards... potentially a suicide, or an accidental death, or something like that," Faber said.

He said defense will likely find a new solution based on the cause of death determined by the medical examiner.

"From the defense side, you can always deposit a theory for the jury to give them some other possibility as to how this person is gone," Faber said. 

Faber said he would be surprised if there was some sort of plea deal at this point, especially due to this new evidence. But, he said that doesn't mean the case is closed.

"I'd still describe it as a circumstantial case... They don't have eyewitnesses. There remains to be seen a number of things based on what I know they have discovered," Faber said.

Boone County Prosecutor Daniel Knight said last year he'd be pursuing first degree murder charges. According to him, there is a lot of evidence needed to successfully convict someone of that.

"For murder in the first degree, you have to not only show a knowing act, but also deliberation. Which, under the laws in the state of Missouri, means cool reflection on the matter for any length of time no matter how brief," Knight said to KOMU 8 last year. 

The trial has been set back a number of times, and this will likely cause another delay, according to Faber. As of right now, the three-week trial is set to begin Nov. 1.

"Just based on the state of the court with COVID, and then this new evidence... I would be surprised if the case goes to trial as it's presently scheduled," Faber said. 

A full timeline of the disappearance of Ji and the Elledge investigation can be seen below. 

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