District Attorney Charles Branson announces that on Monday, February 4, 2019 a jury convicted Lawrence resident Tria L. Evans, 39, of first degree murder and other felony crimes for her part in the November 2017 murder of Joel Wales. The jury also convicted her of conspiracy to commit first degree murder, arson, and aggravated burglary.
“Domestic violence takes many forms. Joel Wales died as a result of domestic violence perpetrated upon him by Tria Evans. Her choice to take Joel’s life now has robbed their child of both of her parents,” said DA Branson.
The case begin when on Friday, November 3, 2017 at approximately 9:30 p.m. officers with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office were dispatched to a house fire in the 1100 block of East 1200 Road in Lawrence, Kansas. The person that called 9-1-1 also reported she heard an altercation, and she heard a woman yelling.
Wakarusa Fire Department extinguished the house fire and located Mr. Wales deceased. Dr. Erik Mitchell later performed an autopsy on the victim and determined the victim had been shot six times and died as a result of those injuries. Dr. Mitchell was able to determine that an absence of soot in Mr. Wales’ lungs indicated he died prior to the house being set on fire.
Law enforcement was already aware of issues between Ms. Evans and the victim due to multiple child custody plan disagreements which resulted in law enforcement being called. The victim had also reported to law enforcement his fear that Evans would kill him.
Law enforcement learned through investigation that Evans called Mr. Wales approximately 69 times between 7:55 a.m. and 8:51 p.m. on the day she murdered him. They also discovered the box for a Smith and Wesson Bodyguard .380 caliber handgun in Evans’ bedroom closet with a receipt reflecting a purchase date of June 20, 2016. Later testing on the bullets and casings recovered from the Mr. Wales’ body and the crime scene reflected they were fired from the exact model of gun. The gun was never recovered.
The trial in the Division Three Courtroom began on Monday, January 28. Jury selection took one day and opening statements were delivered Tuesday morning. The trial continued throughout the week and closing statements were delivered Friday afternoon. The jury got the case for consideration at about 3:30 p.m. and they left at about 5:00 p.m. The jury returned Monday at 9:00 a.m. and returned its verdict by about 9:30 a.m., deliberating for a total of about two hours.
Based on Kansas Sentencing Guidelines, Evans faces life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for 50 years or the “Hard 50 sentence.” Her actual sentence will be determined by the Court. A pre-sentence investigation was ordered and sentencing scheduled for March 19 at 9:00 a.m.
Co-defendant Christina L. Towell, 38, of Leavenworth is currently set for a jury trial to begin on March 25. She is charged with murder in the first degree, conspiracy to commit murder in the first degree, arson, and aggravated burglary. Charges are merely accusations and Towell is innocent until and unless proven guilty.
The Honorable Barbara K. Huff presided over the trial. The case was investigated by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, with assistance from the Lawrence Police Department, the Eudora Police Department, the Wakarusa Fire Department, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, Topeka Fire Department, and the Johnson County Criminalistics Laboratory. Chief Assistant District Attorney Amy McGowan and Assistant District Attorney Nicole Southall prosecuted the case.