Attorney for Hailey Owens' killer says death sentence unconstitutional

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JEFFERSON CITY - The public defender for Craig Wood says the way the convicted killer was sentenced to death is unconstitutional. 

The Missouri Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in an appeal.

Wood was convicted of first-degree murder for the killing of 10-year-old Hailey Owens in Springfield.

Wood was also charged with armed criminal action and child kidnapping, along with first-degree rape and first-degree sodomy involving a child under 12.

A Platte County jury convicted Wood in November 2017, three years after the crime. Jurors were unable to reach a unanimous decision on whether he should be executed.

Judge Thomas Mountjoy had the option of sentencing Wood to the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. Mountjoy decided the former in January 2018.

Wood's public defender, Rosemary Percival, filed a 136-page brief with the court saying Missouri is one of the only two states that allow a judge to impose a death sentence after jurors could not.

"This court must strike down Missouri’s deadlock procedure," Percival said. "It violates the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury."

Percival presented a number of questions to the court, including whether certain evidence violated many of Wood's constitutional rights, such as freedom from the capricious or arbitrary infliction of the death penalty. 

Court documents say a Springfield couple saw Wood grab Hailey and put her in his truck. Officers later found the truck and questioned Wood. When searching his home, officers found Hailey's unclothed body in a plastic tub in the basement. 

An autopsy revealed Hailey had been shot in the head, with one of the 18 guns found in Wood's home. Evidence shows Wood raped and sodomized the young girl.

Wood was working as a football coach and supervisor of in-school suspension at a middle school at the time. School officials said they never noticed his inappropriate behavior, but officers searching his house found photographs of girls who had been students.

The appeal challenged evidence, including testimony about the guns and the photographs.

During the trial, Hailey's pastor testified about the impact of Hailey's death on the Springfield community. He said parents were less likely to let children play outside or walk by themselves. 

Missouri lawmakers are now working on what is known as "Hailey's Law," which would speed up the Amber Alert process for abducted children. Jim and Genie Wood, Craig Wood's parents, have advocated for the bill.

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