Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson announces that today, Tuesday, March 19, Tria L. Evans, 39, was sentenced for the first degree murder of Joel Wales, conspiracy to commit first degree murder, arson, and aggravated burglary.
The Court sentenced Evans to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 50 years (Hard 50) for the murder of Mr. Wales. The sentences for the remaining convictions were ordered to run concurrent to the Hard 50 sentence - 117 months prison for conspiracy, 18 months for arson, and 41 months for aggravated burglary. If she would be released after serving a minimum of 50 years, she would be required to register as a violent offender for 15 years and she would also have life-time post-release supervision.
The case began on Friday, November 3, 2017 at approximately 9:30 p.m. when 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 Mr. Wales’ body and the crime scene reflected they were fired from that exact model of gun. The gun was never recovered.
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.
Today’s hearing was held in the Division Three courtroom of the Honorable Barbara Kay Huff. 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.
*Rule 226 - Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct
3.6 Advocate: Trial Publicity
3.8 Advocate: Special Responsibilities of a Prosecutor