Guilty verdict in killing of man found shot in burning home south of Lawrence

A Lawrence woman was convicted of first-degree murder Monday in the killing of a Eudora man whose body, riddled with bullet holes, was found in a burning house.

Tria L. Evans, 39, was convicted in the slaying of 34-year-old Joel Wales in November 2017 after a prolonged fight over child custody arrangements, prosecutors said. He was shot six times and his house was burned.

“Domestic violence takes many forms,” Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said in a written statement. Evans’ choice “to take Joel’s life now has robbed their child of both of her parents.”

The jury, after a weeklong trial, also convicted Evans of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, arson and aggravated battery.

Law enforcement had already been aware of ongoing difficulties between Evans and Wales over child custody plans when police were called to the fire scene about 9:30 p.m. Nov. 3 at the house south of Lawrence.

Crews from the Wakarusa Fire Department, while extinguishing the blaze, found Wales’ body. An autopsy showed Wales had been shot six times and died before the fire.

Police never recovered a gun, but investigators found a box for a .380 caliber handgun in Evans’ bedroom closet — a model of gun that matched the bullets and casings recovered from Wales’ body and crime scene, prosecutors said.

Evans faces life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for 50 years under Kansas sentencing guidelines. Her sentencing is set for March 19.

A co-defendant, Christina L. Towell, 38, of Leavenworth was also charged in Wales’ murder. She is scheduled to go to trial March 25.

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Joe Robertson specializes in reporting on criminal and social justice. He works to tell the stories behind the stories, while covering breaking news of all kinds.