2 women charged with murder, arson in November homicide of man found in burning house near Lawrence

A crew works Monday, Nov. 6, 2017, on the porch of a house at 1104 East 1200 Road where the body of 34-year-old Joel Wales, of Eudora, was found Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, when firefighters and the Douglas County Sheriff's Office responded to a report of a fire and gunshots.

Two women have been charged with murder in the death of a man whose body was found inside a burning house outside Lawrence.

Tria L. Evans, 38, Lawrence, and Christina L. Towell, 37, Leavenworth, were arrested Thursday morning in connection with the death of Joel Wales, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.

Both are charged with first degree murder, conspiracy to commit first degree murder, arson and aggravated burglary, Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson announced. The women are being held on $1 million bond, according to the DA.

Evans is the mother of Wales’ child, and the two had been involved in multiple domestic disputes over the past several years, according to Douglas County District Court case files. Towell does not have a record in the court.

The body of Wales, 34, of Eudora, was discovered shortly after 9 p.m. Nov. 3, 2017, inside a house at 1104 East 1200 Road, just south of Lawrence.

Deputies were initially dispatched to a report of a house fire with the sound of gunshots in the area, the sheriff’s office has said previously.

Deputies found the house on fire but couldn’t enter. Arriving firefighters extinguished the fire and pulled the body of a man from the home. He was pronounced dead at the scene, and no one else was inside the house.

According to Douglas County property records, the house is owned by Gary Athey. Athey is the companion of Wales’ mother, Debbie Wales, according to Joel Wales’ obituary.

In announcing the arrests of Evans and Towell, the sheriff’s office said it would release no further information about the homicide, saying the investigation remains ongoing.

According to court documents in domestic cases involving Wales and Evans:

In 2016, Evans was charged with domestic battery against Wales and his mother, in two separate cases. Those cases also included charges of criminal damage to property belonging to Wales and another of his relatives.

Following plea agreements in both cases, Evans was sentenced to probation in late 2017, prior to the homicide.

Wales was convicted of battery against Evans in a 2014 case and was sentenced in March 2015 to six months of probation.

He also was accused of domestic battery and criminal damage against Evans in 2015, but the charges were dropped because of an inability to prove them beyond a reasonable doubt, the DA’s office said in its motion to dismiss.

In that case, Wales alleged a previous and ongoing “pattern of harassing and intimidating behavior” by Evans, according to a motion filed by his defense attorney.

Evans had also accused Wales of the same.

At one point, in August 2017, Evans said she intended to move out of the county to “ensure the protection and safety” of herself and her children. In the letter, filed in a parenting case, Evans accused Wales and his mother of “physical, mental, and emotional abuse, assault, harassment, and stalking.”

The court ordered a parenting coordinator to work with Evans and Wales, in October of 2017, the last filing in the parenting case.

Wales attended school in Perry and at the time of his death was working as a heating, ventilating and air conditioning technician with River City Heating and Cooling, according to his obituary.

Of the 10 homicides Douglas County tallied in 2017 — all in the second half of the year — Wales’ killing was the only case left in which someone hadn’t been charged.