New evidence delays rural Lawrence murder and arson trial; defendant’s ex, fellow inmate claim she confessed to them

photo by: Journal-World File Photo

In this file photo from Feb. 6, 2018, Christina L. Towell appears in Douglas County District Court.

New evidence linking Christina L. Towell to the murder and subsequent burning of a Eudora man last year has surfaced, necessitating her trial be pushed back, lawyers say.

Specifically, Towell’s ex-husband and a fellow inmate at the jail have both claimed she confessed to them her involvement in the death of Joel Wales, Towell’s attorney wrote in his request to push back the trial, which had been scheduled to begin next week.

On Monday, Douglas County District Court Judge Kay Huff approved that request and rescheduled Towell’s trial for March 25.

The other woman charged in Wales’ death — his ex Tria L. Evans, who allegedly masterminded the killing and hired Towell to help — is currently scheduled to go on trial Jan. 28.

Answering “yes, ma’am,” Towell agreed to waive her speedy trial rights to accommodate the delay.

Prosecutor Amy McGowan said the state had come into possession of “additional evidence linking Ms. Towell to the crime.”

Michael Clarke, Towell’s appointed attorney, wrote in a motion filed before Monday’s hearing that he’d received additional reports from the state earlier this month.

“Included were reports detailing new allegations by two individuals (the defendant’s ex-husband and another inmate at the jail) who claim that the defendant has confessed her involvement in the death of Joel Wales,” Clarke wrote.

Clarke said prosecutors also told him the state’s investigation continues to include forensic examination of electronics seized from the ex-husband’s home.

Clarke, who also represents one of the defendants in the Massachusetts Street murder trial set to start Nov. 5, said he needed more time “to adequately investigate and prepare” for the new witnesses and evidence before Towell faces a jury.

Wales’ alleged murder happened around 9:30 p.m. on Nov. 3, 2017, in his mother’s house south of Lawrence, 1104 East 1200 Road, where Wales was housesitting.

photo by: Elvyn Jones

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. The sheriff’s office is investigating the incident as a homicide.

Evans, 39, of Lawrence, is the mother of Wales’ child. She and Towell, 38, of Leavenworth, are each charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, arson and aggravated burglary. Charges allege that they conspired to kill Wales — with Towell driving Evans to and from the scene — then cover up the crime by setting the house on fire.

Wales, 34, of Eudora, was shot six times — through a glass window, and also at closer range inside the house — and died before gasoline was poured on his body and lit on fire, according to testimony at the preliminary hearing and information in an affidavit prepared by detectives. A neighbor heard yelling before hearing gunshots and seeing flames erupt on the front porch and a person running from the house to a car.

Among other evidence linking Towell to the crime was a GPS device inside her red Ford Mustang indicating she’d driven from Leavenworth to Evans’ house in Lawrence, to the scene of the crime at the time of the crime, and back again.

The women’s relationship wasn’t explained at the preliminary hearing, but according to the detectives’ affidavit, Towell was a longtime acquaintance of Evans who moved to this area from Dodge City. Evans had ties to Dodge City, according to court documents in prior domestic cases between her and Wales.

Also on Monday, Towell asked the judge to lower her $1 million bond.

Her lawyer said Towell had ties to the community, including that she was from an adjacent county, had shared custody of a son with her ex, has a daughter now living in this area, and was previously employed at a job she thought she could get back if she were released.

The judge denied that request.

More coverage: Joel Wales homicide

May 15, 2018Two women ordered to stand trial on murder, arson charges in Eudora man’s killing

May 11, 2018Victim’s mother blames his ex at hearing for defendants in rural Lawrence murder, arson case

Feb. 14, 2018Affidavit: Two women plotted to kill Eudora man and cover it up

Feb. 1, 20182 women charged with murder, arson in November homicide of man found in burning house near Lawrence

Nov. 6, 2018Investigators identify man found dead in burning home south of Lawrence; homicide suspected

Contact Journal-World public safety reporter Sara Shepherd


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.