Second woman convicted in murder, burning of Eudora man
photo by: Journal-World File Photo
Days after her accomplice was ordered to life in prison — for premeditated murder and other convictions based on what the judge called “overwhelming” evidence — Christina L. Towell decided to take a plea deal.
Towell, 38, of Leavenworth, pleaded no contest and was convicted of first-degree felony murder Thursday in Douglas County District Court.
Towell’s trial was set to begin Monday but has now been called off. She’s scheduled to be sentenced April 18.
Towell and her cousin Tria L. Evans, 39, of Lawrence, plotted and executed the slaying of Evans’ ex-boyfriend, 34-year-old Joel Wales of Eudora, on Nov. 3, 2017.
Wales was alone at 1104 East 1200 Road, housesitting for his mother, when the women broke through a door, shot him six times, poured gasoline on his body and lit it on fire along with the house. Neighbors called 911 when they heard a spurt of gunshots and saw a female figure run to a car in the driveway as flames erupted on the front porch.
Even at her sentencing Evans claimed she didn’t kill Wales, but the language in the laws the women are convicted under spells out that it doesn’t matter who actually pulled the trigger.
Felony murder is killing someone during the commission of a dangerous felony, in this case aggravated burglary, according to the updated complaint against Towell.
That conviction will replace Towell’s initial charges: first-degree premeditated murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, aggravated burglary and arson.
Kansas sentencing guidelines for a first-degree felony murder conviction call for life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years, or a “Hard 25” sentence, Judge Kay Huff said.
That’s lighter — at least potentially — than the “Hard 50” that Evans got for her first-degree premeditated murder conviction.
Evans was sentenced Tuesday by the same judge. On Feb. 4, following a weeklong trial, jurors deliberated just an hour and a half before convicting Evans of everything she was charged with, the same four counts Towell faced before the plea.
At Evans’ sentencing, the judge highlighted the level of planning that went into Wales’ killing and the amount of evidence the state had to prove it.
“This was very premeditated,” Huff said Tuesday. “It doesn’t get much more premeditated than this case.”
Jurors at Evans trial called the evidence “overwhelming,” Huff said, particularly a GPS device that Douglas County Sheriff’s Office investigators found in Towell’s red Ford Mustang.
The device — corroborated by public street cameras — showed that on the night of the murder the car drove from Towell’s house in Leavenworth to Evans’ house in Lawrence, then to the scene of the crime at the precise time of the crime, and back again.
Much more evidence came out at Evans’ trial that pointed to Towell as well.
Evans and Wales had a tumultuous relationship, which disintegrated after the birth of their daughter in 2014. Prosecutors contended that an angry, jealous and possessive Evans stalked Wales for years and plotted his death for months. At Evans’ trial, multiple friends testified that she had asked them to kill Wales before.
Prosecutors said that though those friends declined, Towell bought into Evans’ exaggerated claims that Wales was abusing her and her daughter and ultimately agreed to help with the killing.
Text messages between the two women showed them apparently plotting something and communicating in the hours right before and right after the murder.
In one exchange, on Nov. 1, 2017, Evans texted Towell, “When we taking care of this?”
Two days after that — the night of the murder — Evans texted Towell, “When you coming?” Towell replied, “Now.”
At Towell’s home, investigators testified that they found a gasoline can in the trunk of her Mustang and two pairs of tennis shoes stuffed into shopping bags in a chiminea on the back patio. They also found an envelope with no return address containing a photo of Wales and an anonymous, handwritten note listing Wales’ name, address, physical description, car and a few friends and relatives.
Experts testified that the handwriting was that of Evans and that DNA where the envelope was licked matched Evans’ as well.
Prosecutor Amy McGowan said that she was just notified shortly before Thursday’s hearing that Towell was agreeing to the plea.
Towell began to cry and dabbed her eyes with a tissue as she confirmed to the judge that she was agreeing to the conviction without a trial.
Towell’s appointed attorney, Michael Clarke, declined to comment further following the hearing. The Douglas County District Attorney’s Office didn’t immediately respond to a request for more information about the timing of Towell’s plea offer.
• March 19, 2019 — Lawrence woman sentenced to Hard 50 for murdering ex, setting body on fire
• Feb. 14, 2018 — Affidavit: Two women plotted to kill Eudora man and cover it up