Elledge murder and child abuse cases involve 40 witnesses
COLUMBIA, MO – At a status hearing for murder suspect Joseph Elledge on Friday, the state filed motions to endorse 40 witnesses for multiple charges against the defendant.
Elledge, 24, is charged with first-degree murder as well as unrelated charges for child abuse, child endangerment and third-degree domestic assault. He’s accused of killing his wife, Mengqi Ji, in October of 2019.
On Friday, the state asked that 23 witnesses in the murder case and 17 in the child abuse case be endorsed.
Ji’s body has not been found.
As previously reported by the Missourian, Columbia police recently resumed the search, continuing the excavation of a levee in the Lamine River, where investigators have said they have reason to believe Ji’s body might be found.
Boone County Chief Prosecutor Dan Knight said the trial could take up to a month, because of delays related to COVID-19 and translating witness testimony. Many of the witnesses called to testify speak Chinese.
In another layer of complication for the case, processes for selecting and impaneling jurors have become protracted because of reduced occupancy limits in courtrooms and the need for safe social distance.
No trial date has been set. A bond hearing was scheduled for Nov. 30, and Knight said at that point the court may have a better idea when the trial will begin.
North Texas hotels ignore sex trafficking,
exploitation of children, lawsuit says
Three national hotel chains are accused of being complicit in sex trafficking at hotels across the country including various ones in North Texas, according to a federal lawsuit filed in Dallas this week.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a woman identified as F.M. who says she was sexually exploited at North Texas hotels beginning when she was 4 years old. The woman is now in her 20s and lives in Tarrant County.
The lawsuit, filed by Houston-based Lanier Law Firm on Monday, includes Best Western, Hyatt and Red Lion hotels, and says that the companies ignored criminal activity occurring on their property and failed to protect victims of sex trafficking from exploitation.
“The hotel industry plays a crucial role in the sex trade,” said Lanier Law Firm founder Mark Lanier in a statement released Wednesday. “For too long, the industry has profited by looking the other way when sex trafficking has been happening right in front of them. We’re filing this lawsuit to get some justice for victims and to let these businesses know that their lack of action is unacceptable.”
In a statement Wednesday, BWH Hotel Group said, “Best Western International, Inc. condemns human trafficking. It is a despicable crime and the criminals who intentionally inflict this suffering on their victims should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Best Western supports the industry’s efforts to raise awareness and fight against this inhumane and horrific crime.
“While Best Western branded hotels are independently owned and operated, we require that each member hotel complies with all laws and treats all hotel guests consistent with our core values of integrity, honesty, and respect for others’ dignity,” the statement continued. “We provide information and training resources to member hotels on this serious issue such that hotels can educate their staff about how to recognize and report instances of trafficking.”
Officials at Red Lion and Hyatt could not be reached Wednesday for comment.
The suit specifically names Best Western Plus DFW Airport Suites, Hyatt House Dallas/Frisco, Best Western Irving Inn & Suites at DFW Airport, and the America’s Best Value Inn Irving/Dallas.
Sex trafficking generates an estimated $99 billion each year, making it the second-largest illicit crime industry behind the sale of illegal drugs, according to the lawsuit. More than 60 percent of sex trafficking offenses occur in hotels, while eight out of 10 arrests for human trafficking occur in or around hotels, the lawsuit says.
VICTIM SAYS SHE WAS DRUGGED AND ASSAULTED FOR YEARS
In the lawsuit, F.M. gave this account of being exploited:
Her father, to sustain his drug addiction, sold her to traffickers in Irving for sex when she was 4.
She was given unidentified pills by her trafficker on average to five to 10 times each day, according to the lawsuit. Her traffickers would tie her and other children up and place them blindfolded in the back of a van.
When they arrived at a hotel, a hotel bellmen would be there to meet them and send them to assigned hotel rooms where buyers would be waiting for them, the lawsuit stated.
F.M. was bound, blindfolded and sent to rooms where “johns” were awaiting her and other children. She was then tied to a bed and sexually assaulted, according to the lawsuit.
From age 4 to 18, F.M. was trafficked to buyers for sex and abuse at the Best Western Plus DFW Airport Suites, the Best Western Irving Inn & Suites at DFW Airport in Irving and the Hyatt House Dallas/Frisco in Frisco, she said in the suit.
By the age of 20, F.M. was in the possession of her third trafficker and being trafficked at America’s Best Value Inn Irving/Dallas in Irving, the suit says.
She was advertised on Craigslist.com
At the age of 20, F.M. was hospitalized and could not work. Her trafficker punished her 2-year-old son by raping the child while F.M. watched, according to the lawsuit.
Her trafficker controlled her by making her dependent on methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana.
A number of nationwide campaigns recognized trafficking in the hotel industry and several hotel companies took initiative to combat the problem, but the lawsuit says Best Western, Hyatt and Red Lion have repeatedly failed to thwart sexual exploitation at their hotels.
The lawsuit listed some indicators of sex trafficking at a hotel. They include:
An excess of condoms in rooms.
Individuals carrying large amounts of cash.
Renting two rooms next door to each other.
Declining room service for several hours.
Men traveling with multiple women who appear unrelated.
Guests checking in with little or no luggage.
Women known to be staying in rooms without leaving.
Hotel guests who prevent another individual from speaking for themselves.
The lawsuit listed more than 20 incidents of arrests and rescues of people and children in sex trafficking or exploitation cases at hotels operated by Red Lion, Hyatt and Best Western.
Army Secretary apologizes to military families living in dangerous housing conditions
The Pentagon – Secretary of the Army Mark Esper on Friday apologized to thousands of families living in dangerous conditions in military housing, which has long been maintained not by the military but by private contractors.
Families like that of Jana Wanner, who testified before Congress Wednesday.
“Mold was growing out of the wall of our shower,” Wanner said. “They told us, and this is a direct quote, let the mold just fall out.”
Other major problems: lead in the water, asbestos, leaking ceilings, roaches, mice and rats.
“I am infuriated by what I’m hearing today,” said Sen. Martha McSally. “This is disgusting.”
Esper said he wants to renegotiate contracts with property management companies to give tenants more power, including “a clear bill of rights for our families — for our soldiers and our families.”
“So they know what they can do what their rights are that they can bring to the chain of command if they feel that the contractors are not meeting their needs,” Esper said.
One change would hit those companies right where it hurts.
“If a family isn’t getting the service they want then I think they should have the ability to withhold their basic allowance for housing payments,” Esper said.
Sgt. Major of the Army Daniel Dailey worries contractors’ neglect could affect recruiting and mission success. If soldiers are worried about how their family is surviving in the U.S. with mold and rats, how can they do their job overseas?
“We need our soldiers focused on doing their job fighting and winning our nation’s wars,” Dailey said.
Wanner, whose family lives at Fort Meade in Maryland, is encouraged by the new focus on military housing conditions but worries if it will last.
“I don’t want the steam to be lost and I want to keep moving forward and I want that change made and I want families to be heard,” Wanner said.
Just four years ago, the Pentagon investigated military family housing and found “pervasive health and safety hazards” — but the conditions continued to fester. CBS News asked Esper if that might happen again, and he said no. This time, he vowed, “we’re going to get it right.”