Craig Wood is housed in the Potosi Correctional Center outside the village of Mineral Point in Washington County, Missouri. (Photos of Craig Wood by the Missouri Department of Corrections, aerial view of the Potosi Correctional Center from the Washington County Assessor's Office public GIS viewer)

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One of Craig Wood’s friends from high school testified at a hearing on March 25 that Wood’s heart was broken when a girl broke up with him in high school.

Wood, now 55, was convicted of raping and killing 10–year-old Hailey Owens in Springfield in 2014. Wood was sentenced to death in 2018. The jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on punishment, and the decision went to Circuit Judge Thomas Mountjoy.

On March 26, 2020 and with the assistance of an attorney, Wood filed a 231-page amended motion that contains 22 claims, including claims of ineffective counsel.

“He took it hard,” Kelly Bowman recalled of Wood's teenage breakup. “He loved her.”

Bowman recalled seeing a photo of Hailey after her murder and thinking of how much Hailey resembled Wood’s ex-girlfriend from high school.

Kenny Childers, another of Wood’s friends from high school, testified about Wood’s drinking.

Hailey Owens
Hailey Owens was 10 when she was raped and murdered in 2014. (Photo from Springfield Police Department's Facebook)

“Craig could handle a 12-pack pretty easy,” Childers said. Childers said he knew Wood smoked marijuana but wasn’t aware of Wood’s methamphetamine use in 2014. Childers testified he thought Wood was a functional alcoholic.

Parade of character witnesses

Wood’s attorney Valerie Leftwich called several people who personally knew Wood to testify on first day of a three-day evidentiary hearing in a Greene County courtroom.

Wood’s legal team claims he had ineffective assistance of counsel at his trial in 2017 for numerous reasons, including they failed to call to testify at least 10 people who knew Wood.

Most of the people who testified on Monday were not called to testify during Wood’s trial in 2017.

‘He was acting very bizarrely'

Caryn Saxon was Wood’s nextdoor neighbor in 2014. Saxon testified on Monday that she and Wood had a friendly relationship and that they shared a driveway. She was working from home on Feb. 18, 2014, the day Hailey was murdered.

“I remember that being a very beautiful day,” Saxon said. “I had my windows open, curtains pulled.”

Saxon described seeing Wood parking in an unusual spot and going in and out of his house several times. Each time he would come in or out of his house, Saxon said Wood would pause and look at her through her bedroom window.

“He was acting very bizarrely,” she said. “He kept staring at me. … I found that really disturbing.”

Saxon said she closed her windows and curtains and spent the evening watching a movie. She said she didn’t know anything about Hailey’s abduction until a police officer knocked on her door at around 8 p.m. The police officer asked Saxon if she wanted to move her vehicle before police put crime scene tape around Wood’s home and the driveway he and Saxon shared.

Saxon said she was subpoenaed by prosecutors to testify at Wood’s trial in 2017, but was never called to the stand. Saxon said no one from Wood’s trial defense team called on her to testify. 

From death row to Greene County Jail

Wood was transported from Potosi Correctional Center to the Greene County Jail on March 22, so that he can participate in the hearing, the latest in Wood’s fight to avoid the death penalty.

Wood was sentenced to death in January 2018, and Judge Mountjoy has since retired.

Craig Wood's mugshot
Craig Wood was transported from Potosi Correctional Center to the Greene County jail on March 22, 2024. (Booking photo by Greene County Sheriff's Office)

Mountjoy returned to the bench this week to oversee Wood’s hearing.

Wood — who was a stranger to Owens — abducted the Westport Elementary fourth-grader off the 3200 block of West Lombard Street on Feb. 18, 2014, and drove her to his home. He raped her and then shot her in the back of the head.

He was convicted of first-degree murder by a jury in November 2017.

The Missouri Supreme Court affirmed Woods’ conviction and death sentence in July 2019, according to the Springfield News-Leader.

An estimated 10,000 people gathered on Commercial Street in 2014 to remember Hailey Owens.
An estimated 10,000 people gathered on Commercial Street in 2014 to remember Hailey Owens. (Photo from City of Springfield's Facebook)

In November 2019, Wood filed a motion pro se — without an attorney — asking the court to vacate, set aside or correct the judgment of his conviction. This document is six pages long.

On March 26, 2020 and with the assistance of an attorney, Wood filed the more robust amended motion that contains 22 claims. According to this amended motion, Wood’s legal team intends to call 17 witnesses, including three experts, to testify at the evidentiary hearing scheduled to begin March 25.

What to expect with Craig Wood in 2024

In addition to the claims Wood had ineffective assistance from his attorneys at trial, the motion claims Wood’s due process rights were violated and prosecutorial misconduct occurred when the state “falsely claimed that with a death verdict, the jury spoke for Hailey and her family” during the penalty phase.

Wood’s motion also claims Judge Mountjoy had a conflict of interest which “precluded him from being a fair and impartial sentencer” and that Wood’s trial attorney should have objected and moved for the recusal of Mountjoy after the jury was unable to agree on punishment.

After testimony wrapped up on Monday, Leftwich told Mountjoy she expects to call four expert witnesses on Tuesday and plans to call Patrick Berrigan and Thomas Jacquinot with the Public Defender's Capital Case Division on Wednesday. Berrigan and Jacquinot represented Wood at trial in 2017.

The Hauxeda will continue to cover the hearing.

Jackie Rehwald

Jackie Rehwald is a reporter at the Hauxeda. She covers public safety, the courts, homelessness, domestic violence and other social issues. Her office line is 417-837-3659. More by Jackie Rehwald