Douglas County murder defendant shopped around for someone to kill her ex, witnesses testify
photo by: Sara Shepherd
Story updated 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2018:
A jilted and obsessive Tria L. Evans asked multiple people to kill her ex in the months before he turned up dead, witnesses testified Wednesday at Evans’ murder trial.
“She had actually asked me to kill him a couple of times,” said one of those witnesses, a man who had a casual dating relationship with Evans in the year before the homicide. “She was like, ‘I want him dead,’ and, ‘Would you kill him?'”
Donald Love said he shrugged off the request and told Evans no, saying he’d beat up the ex if he ever did anything to her but that was as far as he would go.
The night of Nov. 3, 2017, 34-year-old Joel Wales, of Eudora, was found shot to death and set on fire inside his mother’s house south of Lawrence.
The porch and living room of the house, at 1104 East 1200 Road, also were burning. Multiple bullets were lodged in Wales’ body, including one in his brain.
Evans, 39, of Lawrence, had a child with Wales and a tumultuous relationship. She was arrested Feb. 1, 2018, and charged in Douglas County District Court with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, arson and aggravated burglary.
A second person was arrested the same day and charged with the same crimes. That person — Evans’ cousin and friend, Christina L. Towell, 38, of Leavenworth — is scheduled to go on trial in March.
Prosecutors allege that Evans secured Towell to help with the crime, but only after first asking multiple other people to kill Wales.
One of them was Joni Sidney.
Sidney was friends with Evans, and from fall 2016 to early 2017, Evans came to her house daily after both women dropped their children off at school.
Evans’ “nonstop” complaining about Wales — and calling and yelling at him on the phone — dominated their time together, Sidney said.
Sidney described Evans as jealous and suspicious of Wales, even for the attention he gave his own mother and daughter. Sidney said Wales didn’t want to be with Evans and that, in attempts to control him, Evans filed restraining orders claiming he abused her but confided to Sidney that wasn’t really true.
Evans became increasingly “erratic, angry, violent, obsessive, unstable,” Sidney said, and she talked about wanting Wales dead.
“She had a mission, and she was going to kill him,” Sidney said. “She was very adamant.”
On more than one occasion, Sidney said, Evans asked Sidney to do it — and shared a detailed plan.
“She asked me point-blank if I would shoot Joel’s mother and if I would shoot Joel,” Sidney said. “She told me that she would give me a gun.”
According to Sidney, this was Evans’ plan:
Sidney would go to the door, and when Wales’ mother answered, shoot her, then shoot Wales. Evans talked about setting the house on fire and said she would take care of Sidney’s clothes. She would pay Sidney $500 upfront and another $500 after the killing. They would take Sidney’s car so Wales or his mother wouldn’t recognize it, but Evans would be in the car to tell her where to go.
Also, Sidney said, Evans just wanted to be there when it happened.
Sidney said that when Evans started talking about this she tried to change the subject and said the idea was “crazy.”
Sidney said Evans told her that she’d asked two other men to kill Wales, too. Evans told her she thought one of those men would do it in exchange for methamphetamine.
Sidney said she told Evans she should seek counseling but doesn’t think Evans ever did, at least not before the women had a falling-out months before Wales’ death.
Sidney said she told a mutual friend about Evans asking her to kill Wales but didn’t go to police with the information until after learning of the homicide.
“I felt sick,” Sidney said.
Evans’ ex-husband, Jacob Legleiter, learned of the homicide from Evans a couple of days after it happened.
He said he got a text from Evans’ oldest daughter saying something was going on with her mom. Legleiter, the father of Evans’ middle daughter, said he stopped to see Evans on his way through Lawrence later that day.
Legleiter asked her what was going on. She told him that someone had murdered Wales and burned his house, and when she said it she was smiling, Legleiter said.
Legleiter, who knew the pair had a rocky relationship, asked Evans if she did it. He said she replied, still upbeat, “No, my phone and my car were at home.”
photo by: Sara Shepherd
Jasen Hadl said he’d seen and heard the couple’s drama firsthand, including a foreboding line Wales said often: “He would say, ‘Hadl, if I’m not here the next day, that (expletive) shot and killed me.'”
Hadl had been friends with Wales since high school and worked with him at Homer’s River City Heating and Cooling.
Evans called Wales 50 or 60 times a day, Hadl said. Wales was at risk of being fired because it was interfering with his work, Hadl said, but if he didn’t answer Evans’ calls, then she would text.
“There’d be anywhere from 100 (to) 200 texts a day; it just all depends on whether he answered the phone call or not,” Hadl said.
Evans often placed those calls and texts from her car, parked as close to the job site as she could get, Hadl said. Hadl said Evans followed the men from their office to job sites, then followed them to lunch and tried to get Wales to eat with her. Sometimes she brought their daughter.
Hadl said Wales played him voicemails in which Evans said, “If you don’t answer your phone and you don’t want to be with me, I will end up shooting you,” and “If you don’t contact me or let me know where you’re at, you’re not going to be able to talk to (the child).”
Asked why Wales put up with Evans’ behavior, Hadl said his friend had to “play her games” to be with his daughter, who was “his No. 1, his main priority.”
In the weeks before Wales died, Hadl said his friend didn’t seem like himself and repeated the line about not showing up the next day even more often than usual.
Evans’ trial, which started Monday with jury selection, is scheduled to last a week and a half. Judge Kay Huff is presiding.
Evans’ appointed attorneys are Carol Cline and Kenzie Singleton. Nicole Southall and Amy McGowan are trying the case for the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office.
Evans and Towell are in custody on $1 million bond.
More from Wednesday’s trial
photo by: Sara Shepherd
• Feb. 4, 2019 — Woman guilty of murder in slaying, burning of Eudora man
• Feb. 14, 2018 — Affidavit: Two women plotted to kill Eudora man and cover it up