A former Springfield middle school football coach and school worker has been sentenced to death in the rape and murder of a 10-year-old girl.
Greene County Circuit Judge Thomas Mountjoy sentenced 49-year-old Craig Wood on Thursday for the February 2014 killing of Hailey Owens. Wood was convicted of first-degree murder in November, but the jury couldn’t decide whether to sentence him to death or life in prison without parole.
“It is true that the death penalty should be reserved for the worst of the worst. This is that case,” said Greene County Prosecutor Dan Patterson during the proceeding, according to the Springfield News-Leader. Patterson added that the sentence was nothing to celebrate, but it gave some “measure of justice” to Hailey and her family.
Mountjoy referred to the “death of innocence” in explaining his decision to sentence Wood to death.
“God bless you, your honor,” Hailey’s step-grandfather cried.
Hailey’s mother, Stacey Herman, attended the proceeding and leaned on the shoulder of an investigator on the case, who wrapped his arm around her.
After learning his punishment, Wood took a drink of water before being led from the courtroom, the News-Leader reported.
Before sentencing Wood to death, Mountjoy denied motions from Wood’s attorneys that sought a new trial and called judge-imposed death sentences unconstitutional.
Hailey was walking along a Springfield street in 2014 when Wood, 49, pulled her into his truck as witnesses looked on. Some witnesses ran on foot after him, and one even got into a vehicle to chase the truck but lost sight of it.
Prosecutors said Wood raped Hailey before taking her to his basement and shooting her. Her body was later found in the basement.
She was essentially tortured in the last 45 minutes of her life, prosecutors said.
Wood was a paraprofessional at Pleasant View Middle School. He was a football coach and supervised students in the in-school suspension room.
As news of Hailey’s slaying spread in her community, residents were shocked by the heinous crime. Her body was discovered inside two trash bags, which were inside a plastic storage tote.
“People can’t believe this would happen. It’s just the fact that she wasn’t far from her home, then instantly, poof, she’s gone,” Springfield resident Joe Bridges told The Star in February 2014.
Wood had apparently never married and had no children. He rarely socialized with neighbors.
The gun used to kill Hailey was one of 18 found inside his home, the News-Leader reported.
Missouri court records indicate Wood pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance in 1990. He was also convicted in 2001 for the illegal taking of wildlife.
Hailey’s father, Markus Owens, told a Springfield television station shortly after the crime, “All I can say right now is I miss her and I love her.”
Three days after the crime, thousands marched in a candlelight vigil in the city. A footbridge where the march ended glowed in purple lights — Hailey’s favorite color.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.