Coach to plead not guilty in girl's murder

Greene County Missouri Sheriff's Office photo shows Craig Michael Wood who was arrested on...

Greene County Missouri Sheriff's Office photo shows Craig Michael Wood who was arrested on suspicion of first degree murder in Springfield, Missouri on February 18, 2014. REUTERS/Greene County Sheriff's Office/Handout

Kevin Murphy, Reuters

, Last Updated: 6:51 PM ET

A seventh-grade football coach was ordered held without bail on Friday and will plead not guilty to the kidnap and murder of a 10-year-old girl snatched off a Springfield, Missouri, street and later found dead in his basement, his lawyer said.

Craig Michael Wood, 45, accused of abducting Hailey Owens from a neighbourhood in Springfield, made his first court appearance on Friday over a video monitor from the Greene County Jail.

Witnesses said Hailey was walking along a street shortly before 5 p.m. on Tuesday when a man driving a pickup truck pulled alongside her. She ignored him at first but then began talking to him, at which point he pulled her into his vehicle and sped off, witnesses told police.

Some people gave chase on foot and a motorist followed the pickup, but lost it in traffic, Williams said. Witness calls to police about the abduction triggered multiple Amber Alerts in Missouri and neighbouring states.

Police said they found Hailey's body the following day in a plastic storage tote in Wood's basement with a bullet wound to her head. There was evidence he had attempted to clean up the basement area with bleach, police said.

Wood was formally charged in Greene County Associate Court on Friday with murder, child abduction and armed criminal action. He was ordered held without bond and a preliminary hearing in the case was set for April 7.

Public defender Christopher Hatley said that Wood would plead not guilty to all charges, although no official plea was received by the court on Friday, according to a clerk and court records. Hatley later said that a formal plea was required at the next hearing.

Wood was a paraprofessional and seventh-grade coach of boys' football and basketball at a Springfield K-8 school, according to a spokeswoman for the public school system. Hailey attended a different school, and there was no evidence she knew Wood, authorities said.

PORNOGRAPHIC IMAGES

Search warrant documents released on Friday showed that police found a three-ring binder in Wood's house containing "pornographic images of young children." Police also found video cameras, DVDs and VHS tapes, but no further details on them were in the report. Wood had more than 20 guns in the house, according to a property list attached to the warrant.

Springfield police officer Chris Barb said in an affidavit for the search warrant that suspects in child killings and abductions often possess or watch child pornography.

Jeff Ward, who played high school football with Wood, said he was stunned by the charges, describing Wood as intelligent and coming from a good home, with parents who treated him well.

"He was the last person I thought would do something like this," said Ward, adding that Wood had a girlfriend in high school but not in recent years, and never had children.

"I think he kept to himself a lot," Ward said.

Ward said they had played in a local rock band after high school, with Wood on the guitar. Wood has since played mandolin with another local band and also liked to hunt deer, Ward said.

Wood's parents, Jim and Genie Wood, live in Ash Grove, Missouri, just outside Springfield. He is a retired teacher and his wife a nurse, according to a statement issued on their behalf on Thursday by a family lawyer, Joseph Passanise.

"This unexpected incident involving their son, Craig, has been a shock and they are grieving," the statement said. "They join the rest of the community in praying as their hearts pour out to the Owens family."

A candlelight vigil and march in Hailey's memory is planned on Saturday, according to Springfield police and a Facebook page set up for the event. There are also several fundraisers for Hailey's family.


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